Most people don’t think of Oshkosh as the next Silicon Valley. As part of Wisconsin’s Fox Valley, however, it has become a regional technology hub — and an example of the tech industry’s growing influence on the larger state economy.
Speaking to the Wisconsin Technology Council’s board of directors Tuesday, members of Amplify Oshkosh — a program of the Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce — noted there are thousands of information technology jobs spread across northeast Wisconsin and predicted there will be an appetite for thousands more.
In fact, northeast Wisconsin must fill 12,000-plus tech jobs by 2020, the group forecast, within sectors such as IT and software, advanced manufacturing and the aerospace industry.
It’s a story being repeated across Wisconsin as state businesses compete for talent in an economy that is becoming more tech-based by the day. A recent national report explained how tech is increasingly driving traditional sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing and tourism while slowly building an impressive standing of its own.
The 2017 “Cyberstates” report from CompTIA, the nation’s largest leading tech association, showed Wisconsin breaking the 100,000-job barrier in 2016 for the first time. The report, which draws upon a mix of public and private data, counted 101,542 state tech workers last year compared with 97,633 in 2015.
First, let’s define what constitutes a tech worker: Cyberstates counts them in two major ways. It includes all jobs within companies that are primarily tech businesses, as well as technology specialists found in other fields — including agriculture, manufacturing and tourism.
In Wisconsin, the leading categories of tech workers are computer systems analysts, software developers, software applications developers and computer-controlled machine tool operators. The latter directly relates to manufacturing.
The Cyberstates report does not include workers in the life sciences, such as biotechnology and medical devices. That’s another 30,000 or so Wisconsin workers, depending on how they are counted.
While Wisconsin ranked 20th nationally in tech employment, it was seventh among the states in percentage growth of tech workers (behind Utah, North Carolina, Michigan, Washington, Montana and California) and 15th in the raw number of tech workers added.
Wisconsin tech workers earned an average of $79,500 in 2016, reported Cyberstates, a figure 74% higher than the state’s overall average wage of $45,600. Wisconsin’s average tech wage was good for 35th among the states and within a cluster of a dozen or so states roughly equal in tech wages. California, as might be expected, led a top-tier group of a half-dozen coastal states that skew the U.S. tech salary average.
Good news for women looking for tech jobs: Wisconsin ranked fifth in the ratio of female tech sector workers to male techies, with 36.5% of the total tech workforce. That compares to 33.7% nationally.
Several other figures speak to the growth of the tech industry in Wisconsin – and run counter to reports that show Wisconsin at or near the bottom of the 50-state list for start-up companies.
Wisconsin ranked 11th among the 50 Cyberstates in percentage growth of tech establishments and 15th in the actual total of new tech companies with 194. All but one of the top 14 states are larger than Wisconsin. It also ranked 25th in tech start-ups, a Cyberstates figure that suggests Wisconsin’s start-up problem may well rest in other industry sectors.
The state’s tech-related gross state product now accounts for 5.1% of the Wisconsin economy, Cyberstates concluded. That’s good for 21st among the states in actual dollars and 29th in percentage terms, a solid standing given the size of the agriculture and manufacturing sectors in Wisconsin.
Total tech gross state product stood at $15.4 billion with roughly equal shares in tech manufacturing, telecom and internet services, software, engineering research and development and testing services.
Building a more diverse, tech-based economy will reinforce Wisconsin’s traditional industries and create new clusters of excellence over time. It’s also essential to attracting and retaining the right workforce at a time when Wisconsin needs more talented workers of all descriptions.
Don’t expect the state economy’s Big Three to be eclipsed anytime soon, but the steady growth of the tech sector is worth noting.