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Phoenix gains in tech jobs, but still lags other cities

The Phoenix metro area shows promise in the technology, development and science industries, but it still lags behind other major U.S. cities, the co-author of a national study released Tuesday said.

The Brookings Institution, a non-profit public policy organization based in Washington, D.C., ranked the Phoenix area No. 16 out of 100 metro areas in the number of full time “advanced industry” workers.

However, the group indicated the Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale area dropped to 50th when it compares the percentage of the total local workforce dedicated to these kinds of jobs.

The non-profit defined “advanced industries” as 50 areas that include everything from aerospace and medical laboratories to architecture and semiconductor manufacturing. These types of job generally earn higher wages.

The good news is that these types of industries are growing “quite rapidly” in the Phoenix area, said Kenan Fikri, a senior policy analyst at Brookings and co-author of the report.

The report said the average annual growth in these industries was 2.9 percent from 2010 to 2013, slightly above the national average of 2.7 percent.

“Phoenix looks like it’s building out its concentrations in multiple advanced industries,” he said. “That’s a diversified starting point, which is a strong starting point.”

Phoenix leaders have worked to bring more of these kinds of jobs to the area.

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Officials have traveled to Silicon Valley to try to lure companies to Phoenix. They have worked to bring a $136 million biosciences research development to downtown. And they have tried to recruit companies to move into the Arizona Biomedical Corridor, which will house biotechnology development and health-care industries, in north Phoenix.

Mesa officials also have tried to attract new business. On Monday, Apple announced it would open a “command center” there. The $2 billion facility will employ 150 full-time employees as well as 300-500 contractors, according to a news release.

“The Apple announcement is a great indication of the types of resources that we have in Mesa,” Mayor John Giles said.

Giles said the city has been building infrastructure in its Gateway area – increasing electrical capacity, installing fiber optic cabling, ensuring the area has enough schools and housing for workers.

“Now all of those pieces of the puzzle have come together out there, and it’s bearing fruit,” he said.

However, it isn’t all good news. Many communities – and Arizona as a whole – have a long way to go to catch up to other cities and states.

Arizona ranked 24th in terms of share of population in these advanced industries compared to other U.S. states.

Although the Phoenix area did better in comparison – with about 153,000 advanced-industry jobs – that’s only 8.3 percent of all jobs, according to the report.

The metro areas surrounding San Jose, California; Seattle and Wichita, Kansas, rose to the top of Brookings’ list in terms of share of population in these industries.

Fikri said employees in these types of fields are important because they conduct the majority of research and development in the U.S.

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“They produce most of the economy’s innovations, and they drive productivity and economic growth,” he said.

One such company is Intel Arizona, which has more than 11,000 employees. The Chandler location is the company’s second largest site in the U.S., according to its website.

Company spokeswoman Rachel Sutherland said industry growth leads to technological advances, cheaper products and improved availability.

“Technology is going to be a bigger and bigger part of our lives,” she said. “It’s going to be surrounding us, and connecting us and creating social change and driving the economy. I don’t see the industry shrinking at any time.”

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Photo courtesy of Intel Corp.

An Intel Arizona technician works in a wafer fabrication facility clean room in Chandler.