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High-Tech Industries Boost the Mountain West’s Recovery

High technology and advanced manufacturing centers are recovering strongly from the recession, reports Brookings’ latest quarterly Metro Monitor regional economic tracker, and the landscape of the Intermountain West reflects the trend perfectly. 

There, Brookings Mountain West’s Mountain Monitor--a regional companion to the national readout produced in partnership with the University of Nevada at Las Vegas--reports that Utah’s three major metropolitan areas and Phoenix, Ariz. lead their metropolitan peers regionally and nationally on measures of overall recovery. 

All four metros are benefitting from an upswing in the high-tech and manufacturing industries nationally. In these metros, modest gains in high technology and advanced manufacturing employment are adding a boost to recovery even as other metropolitan areas remain stuck in neutral in an anemic recovery that feels an awful lot like continued recession.  

How do these sectors manage to make such a difference given their relatively limited numerical job contributions? By injecting purchasing power into the local economy, job growth in these high-wage tradable sectors may well bolster less dynamic portions of the local economy by increasing demand for  leisure and entertainment activities or other services, for example. In that sense, even though high technology and advanced manufacturing industries tend not themselves to be job-rich, modest employment growth in them yields further jobs dividends elsewhere in the economy. This underscores the important role that strategic high-value diversification--such as we have recommended to the state of Nevada--will play in catalyzing a broad-based recovery that absorbs workers of all skill levels back into the economy.

A group of Intermountain West metros exemplifies this trend. (Here’s how it looks on the ground as a dot map!).  Phoenix has added roughly 2,500 new high-tech jobs and 2,000 new manufacturing jobs (note that some of these are double-counted; many high-tech industries fall into the manufacturing sector) in the four quarters since metro employment reached its low point. These gains supported the addition of 6,500 new jobs in leisure and hospitality and roughly 17,500 new jobs in education and health services. In Salt Lake City, high technology industries have added 4,500 new jobs since employment troughed in the third quarter of 2009--gains that were joined by 3,200 new jobs in education and healthcare. Ogden’s 1,900 manufacturing jobs created over the course of recovery have coincided with the creation of 4,700 new leisure and hospitality jobs. And Provo’s 1,800 new high tech and manufacturing jobs have been accompanied by 2,600 new jobs in education and healthcare. 

Of course, the high-tech multiplier isn’t the sole driver of job gains across these metro areas--but it certainly adds momentum.  

At the same time, though, net employment levels have risen above their low points by only 1.9 percent in Phoenix, 2.3 percent in Salt Lake City, 4.3 percent in Ogden, and 4.6 percent in Provo--while remaining 10.8 percent below their pre-recession peaks in Phoenix, 4 percent below their peaks in Salt Lake City, 1.7 percent below their peaks in Ogden, and 3.4 percent below their peaks in Provo. 

In this sense, the takeaway is mixed: High-tech industries may be boosting recovery in some places, but true progress nationally and in U.S. metropolitan areas will require a broader array of industry drivers.