Tech Jobs: State of the Union

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- President Obama stressed the importance of investing in technology and education in Tuesday's State of the Union address, stating that the nation's ability to compete globally depends on innovation.

Companies like Google ( GOOG) and Facebook are models of American success, Obama said, emphasizing the key role that technology will take towards creating new jobs in the country.
President Obama delivers his the State of the Union address on Tuesday.

During the recession, the tech industry emerged as a bright spot, showing 15% growth in jobs during 2010, compared with 11% job growth overall, according to Moody Analytics.

Unemployment in the tech sector has also remained lower than the national average.

While the national unemployment rate hasn't dipped below 9% for the last year and a half, unemployment among tech professionals is around 5.3%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. These rates may be even lower, say some research analysts, as government numbers rely on an outdated definition of professions that comprise the tech sector.

Job cuts in the tech sector in 2010 also fell 73% year-over-year, compared to a 59% decline in overall job cuts across all industries, according to global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

"Tech is strategically important to employers because these workers have skills that are difficult to find," said Tom Silver, senior vice president at Dice, a career website for technology and engineering. "Tech workers help companies improve infrastructure, save money and make their operations more efficient."

But despite these gains, the U.S. tech industry still faces challenges, including outsourcing, immigration caps that make it difficult for highly skilled foreign workers to get work visas, and reduced funding and research and development incentives, as a result of the economic crisis.

Some states attempt to buck this trend by promoting tech and science at a regional level.

"When you look at growing the tech sector you need a strong federal platform, but in the end, all economic development is local," said, Ross DeVol, executive director of economic research at the Milken Institute, a think tank in Santa Monica, Calif. "Regional clusters around universities, research centers, labs, corporate park investment centers -- these are the centers of innovation."

The top-ranked U.S. state for tech innovation and growth is Massachusetts, according to a Milken Institute report released Tuesday. Massachusetts has a 10-year $1 billion investment initiative to fund life sciences research, as well as several other funding efforts to support startups. The state's largest employers include defense and security giant Raytheon ( RTN), which hired 4,500 engineers last year, EMC Software ( EMC) and Iron Mountain ( IRM).

Maryland, which houses top research facilities like the National Institute of Health, ranked second, due to its securing plenty of federal R&D funding. Colorado came in third place, boosted by a large number of fast-growing tech firms, as well as high concentrations of telecom companies like Qwest Communications ( Q), Dish Network ( DISH) and Level 3 ( LVLT).

California, home to Silicon Valley, held the fourth position in the group's study. Several top tech companies headquartered in the state have recently announced that they will aggressively hire in 2011, including Google, which said Tuesday it is looking to add 6,000 workers this year.

But while many of these top states have created high-paying engineering jobs that require tremendous skill and expertise, they must also focus on developing employment for the middle class, said DeVol.

"An iPhone is designed in California and put together in China with parts designed from around the world," he said. "We need U.S. innovation capacity to translate into future job growth that's more broad-based than just at the high end."

--Written by Olivia Oran in New York.

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