Compared to other American industries, high-tech has held up fairly well during the recession. During the last three months of 2008, the high-tech sector shed about 38,000 jobs, yet the unemployment rate for workers in most high-tech fields is less than half the U.S. average, according to TechAmerica, a national association with 1,500 members.
Despite the 2008 year-end weakness, the high-tech sector added about 77,000 net jobs for the year as a whole, with most growth occurring in software services. Regionally, the biggest increases in high-tech jobs occurred in southern states: Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia are four of the five states that recorded the highest net job growth. California remained the leader in high-tech employment with 942,000 workers, with Texas a distant second with 474,000; yet California only added 2,000 high-tech jobs in 2008, compared to 14,000 in Texas and 13,100 in Georgia.
The advanced manufacturing, information technology/telecom, biotech/biomedical, solar, and aerospace/defense sectors are experiencing a flurry of new investments that are spurring production and creating jobs, especially in cities like Atlanta, Georgia; Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina; and Dallas, Texas. Smaller communities throughout the South are staying competitive as well - some are even pulling in billion-dollar development projects.
Although consumer spending is down, companies that manufacture electronics, electronic components, or advanced materials continue to move forward with expansions and relocations. Dallas has long been a stronghold for communications equipment, semiconductor, and other electronic component manufacturing. Texas Instruments, for example, has just opened the world's only production facility to use 300-millimeter (12-inch) silicon wafers to manufacture analog chips, which are essential components in virtually all electronics. "Customer demand for analog chips is growing, and there's tremendous desire to save energy and protect the environment," says Rich Templeton, Texas Instruments' CEO. "It is significant these devices will be made here, in North Texas, in one of the industry's most environmentally responsible fabs."
Hisense Corporation USA, a division of China's largest manufacturer of flat-panel screens, is expanding its North American headquarters near Atlanta. The expansion will create 35 to 40 new research and development positions. Another Chinese business, PAX Technologies, selected the city of Norcross, Georgia, for its North American headquarters location; PAX is a global manufacturer of secure card electronic payment systems and point-of-sales software.
NCR, the world's leading provider of ATMs, self-checkout, and other innovative assisted- and self-service solutions, is in the process of relocating its corporate headquarters to Duluth, Georgia, moving 1,250 jobs to the state. NCR has also located a state-of-the-art manufacturing plant in Columbus that will employ an additional 870 people over the next five years; all ATM manufacturing for North America will be centered in the new facility by the end of 2009. NCR's total investment is $30 million.
The Milken Institute recently ranked Atlanta 12th overall in the nation for the largest concentration of high-tech industries: first in telecommunications; fifth in data processing; ninth in computer systems design. AT&T's Mobility division is Atlanta's biggest telecom player. Research in Motion, the developer of the Blackberry, announced in May it will expand its Atlanta area operations by building a facility in Alpharetta, creating 200 jobs. First Data Corporation will relocate its global headquarters to Atlanta and hire about 1,000 employees over the next three years. "Atlanta is well-known as a major hub for the payments industry and we already have a significant presence here," says Michael Capellas, CEO of First Data. "This move allows us to consolidate operations, be closer to customers, and recruit from a great talent pool."
Florida continues to develop its reputation as a destination for high-tech companies, with a wireless technology cluster is emerging in Sunrise. General Dynamics C4 Systems, a business unit of defense contractor General Dynamics Corporation, is developing next-generation computer and communications technologies for the U.S. government. Research in Motion plans to expand its operations in Sunrise and hire as many as 200 new employees over the next few years.
A number of firms have chosen Alabama for call centers. Americatel and Matrix Telecom will operate a joint customer service operations center in Atmore. Sitel is planning to expand its inbound customer call center in Covington County, creating 200 new positions. And Ryla Teleservices plans to hire 1,200 workers within the next two years for its new $8.5 million regional headquarters and call center near Mobile.
The life sciences sector - biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, and medical devices - continues to innovate during the recession, not only to meet the medical demands of immediate customers, but also the projected needs for the upcoming wave of retiring baby boomers. The Milken Institute ranked Raleigh-Durham and the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina as the fifth-best life sciences cluster in the country. Greater Raleigh-Durham also emerged as the top performer for indexed relative life sciences employment growth between 2002 and 2007, 14 percent above the national average.
North Carolina has invested $1.2 billion in its bioscience clusters during the past decade. "It reinforces our deep and longstanding commitment to biotechnology," says Norris Tolson, president of the North Carolina Biotechnology Center. "There's no better place in the world to make medicines." More than 50 companies manufacture biologics, pharmaceuticals, and diagnostics in the state. GlaxoSmithKline, whose North American headquarters is in Research Triangle Park, is one of the world's top manufacturers of antiviral flu treatments. A flu-vaccine plant near Raleigh-Durham being built by Swiss company Novartis AG is the largest biomanufacturing project under construction in the United States. Some of the world's largest contract manufacturers are also here, including Diosynth Biotechnology in Research Triangle Park and DSM in Greenville.
In Florida, after five years of development, the Scripps Research Institute opened in Jupiter in February. The $187 million, 70-acre campus is part of a biotech cluster that is emerging in South Florida, which includes Torrey Pines and Max Planck. The Torrey Pines Institute of Molecular Studies recently opened its $40 million research facility in Port. St. Lucie. ImmunoCellular Therapeutics, a clinical-stage biotechnology company, is working with Torrey Pines to develop immune-based therapies for the treatment of brain and other cancers.
Alabama is also seeing life sciences activity. The Southern Research Institute (SRI) in Birmingham is a private contract research organization with more than 600 scientists, technicians, and support staff who conduct cancer and infectious and neurological disease research. SRI has discovered six FDA-approved drugs and has several others in clinical trials. The $130 million HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology in Huntsville, which opened in April 2008, is expected to bring 900 new scientists to the area. Located in Cummings Research Park, the nation's second-largest research park, the institute's genomic research will complement the University of Alabama at Birmingham's clinical research base.
According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the U.S. solar industry experienced record growth in 2008. Academic and private-sector R&D in 2009 is focusing on thin-film photovoltaics, solar energy storage systems, hybrid lighting, and the development of more efficient and less expensive semiconductor materials. Tennessee, Florida, Texas, and Georgia have all been successful in attracting solar-technology R&D or manufacturing operations.
The economic slowdown is not keeping Hemlock Semiconductor and its parent company, Dow Corning, from building a $1 billion-plus manufacturing plant in Clarksville, Tennessee. When operational in 2012, the facility will produce polycrystalline silicon, a key component in solar panels and other energy equipment. This deal is one of the largest in Tennessee's history and has the potential to create 900 jobs within five years.
Solar power is a perfect fit for the Sunshine State. FPL Group (NextEra Energy Resources) will build a facility in DeSoto County, Florida, that provides 25 megawatts of photovoltaic solar capacity. It will produce enough electricity annually to meet the needs of over 3,000 homes, or about 20 percent of the DeSoto County's total electricity consumption. In Tallahassee, a new biofuel processing facility is being developed by Verenium Corporation to take advantage of Florida's "farm to fuel" incentives for transforming agricultural production into energy. The $300 million commercial-scale plant will be constructed on land owned by Lykes Brothers, a Florida agribusiness that cultivates energycane. When operational in 2011 the plant is expected to produce 36 million gallons of biofuel annually.
Alabama has long been known for its aerospace industry. Over 300 aerospace companies work in space and defense, aviation, and maintenance, refurbishment and overhaul (MRO). In fiscal 2008 Alabama received over $8.5 billion in Department of Defense prime contracts. Marshall Space Flight Center alone generated more than $1 billion in economic impact for Alabama last year.
One of the more recent aerospace announcements in Alabama is EADS North America, which is constructing a $600 million aircraft engineering center and future production facility for the KC-45 aerial refueling tankers in Mobile. Aerospace giant Boeing is also a prominent corporate citizen of Alabama, with expanded facilities in Decatur and Huntsville. Lockheed Martin has also undergone several expansions in Troy.
Elsewhere in the South, Alliant Techsystems (ATK) will start manufacturing composite structures for next-generation commercial aircraft at its facility in Iuka, Mississippi. The deal is expected to create 800 new jobs over eight years. Louisiana Tech University has just secured a $2.85 million U.S. Air Force's Office of Scientific Research grant to establish the Cyberspace Research Laboratory for advanced R&D in virtualization, visualization, wireless sensor networks, and micro-unmanned aerial vehicles. SPARTA Composite Products plans to invest $13.2 million to open a manufacturing facility in Suffolk, Virginia, creating 198 jobs over a five-year period. "The most significant factors that won us over to Virginia included having the highest value of incentives and a high-technology skilled and disciplined work force available through the over 18,000 retiring military personnel annually," says Paul Oppenheim, a company vice president.