A new report on the U.S. tech industry ranked Houston 12th in tech employment among the 46 largest metros. The region’s 227,800 tech-related jobs placed Houston behind Detroit and Atlanta but ahead of Philadelphia and Minneapolis, according to Cyberstates 2019, the Computing Technology Industry Association’s (CompTIA) annual assessment of the digital tech industry.
Cyberstates is considered the definitive guide to U.S. tech sector analytics. The report looks at workforce data at the national, state and metro level. It focuses on sectors involved in creating, enabling, integrating and supporting technology – either as a product or service. One of Cyberstates’ strengths is that it considers tech-focused jobs that other reports too often ignore. Their method counts three groups of workers:
The second of those groups – the tech occupations at non-tech companies – comprises a large share of Houston’s total tech employment. Sixty-two percent of Houston’s 150,000 tech occupations are at non-tech companies, according to the report. Put another way, a programmer in Houston is twice as likely to work at an energy company or a hospital than at an internet startup. The opposite is true in Austin, where 35 percent of the metro’s 87,900 tech occupations are in non-tech companies. That fact supports a point many Houstonians already know: Houston’s sizable tech workforce is less visible than other cities because most of Houston’s tech professionals work at non-tech companies.
That doesn’t mean Houston’s standalone tech sector is insignificant. According to Cyberstates, the tech industry contributed $28.1 billion to Houston’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in ’18, 5.8% of the total. To put that in perspective, health care generated $24.6 billion, transportation $22.8 billion, and the annual budget of Johnson Space Center is $4.6 billion. By comparison, tech contributed $31.1 billion to Austin’s economy in ’18, 23.5 percent of the capital city’s GDP. Essentially, Houston’s tech sector is the same size as Austin’s, just spread over a larger economy and with about 60,000 more tech occupations outside the industry.
One weakness of CompTIA’s analysis is that it undervalues the contributions to GDP from those professionals at non-tech firms. Given that two of every three tech workers in Houston are employed in a non-tech industry, tech’s contribution to Houston’s GDP is likely much larger than CompTIA reports.
Another aspect of CompTIA’s report that cast Houston in a decidedly negative light was job growth. The report found that while most cities gained tech jobs in 2018, Houston’s net tech employment fell by 2,300 jobs – a startling stat that lead to this gloomy headline in the March 29 edition of the Chronicle. But those numbers were misleading. The Partnership reviewed the data and it appears the losses were modeled, not actual counts, and based on data from ’16 and ’17 – the peak of the oil downturn. Within two days of the CompTIA report’s release, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) posted tech occupations data for ’18. Using CompTIA’s methodology, the Partnership calculates that Houston actually gained a minimum of 550 tech jobs last year. Most optimistically, Houston saw the greatest gains in high-paying tech jobs, adding 2,710 jobs in the group of occupations paying over $100,000. Most of the losses came in the lower skilled jobs related to tech manufacturing.