10 smaller U.S. cities have grown or held tech talent during Covid

Madison, Wisconsin, came out on top of U.S. cities in proportion to population that grew in engineering and tech jobs during the pandemic, according to a LinkedIn study. Cities with engineering universities tended to do better. (Getty Images)

Engineers and other tech talent have left giant tech hubs like San Francisco and New York during the pandemic often in search of more affordable housing as in-migration to those areas has gone south.

Meanwhile, a group of smaller cities in the U.S. have tended to hold onto the tech talent, including Madison, Wisconsin, and Colorado Springs, according to a recent study.

Madison, with a population of 250,000, led a list of the top 10 cities that retained tech talent from December 2019 to May 2021, according to LinkedIn analysts.   Their analysis relied on LinkedIn profiles across its 178 million U.S. members looking at tech and related talent with jobs in IT, software development and electrical, mechanical, civil, chemical, bio engineering and many others. In all, LinkedIn identifies more than 3,000 tech skills from machine learning to aircraft design.

The top 10 smaller cities and metro areas were ranked by comparing their tech jobs in proportion to population size. For Madison, the tech talent pool grew 4.6% over the 18-month pandemic period.  At number 10, Denver broke even which means no growth, but no losses either.

Here is the entire LinkedIn list of metro areas where engineering talent is showing the fastest growth in proportion to population size, ranked from top to bottom: 1. Madison; 2. Colorado Springs; 3. Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, North Carolina; 4. Pittsburgh; 5. Huntsville-Decatur-Albertville, Alabama; 6. Austin, Texas; 7. Tucson, Arizona; 8. Des Moines, Iowa; 9. Cincinnati; and 10. Denver.

tech talent cities chart
Source: LinkedIn

George Anders, senior editor at large for LinkedIn, noted that many of the metro areas on the list had nearby universities with strong engineering programs. They include Carnegie Mellon and University of Pittsburgh at Pittsburgh, but also University of Wisconsin at Madison, Duke and UNC near Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill and University of Texas at Austin.

He further noted that some big employers such as Amazon, based in Seattle, are willing to set up business units near these smaller tech hubs, rather than recruiting employees to work at corporate headquarters. In Madison, for example, Amazon has Amazon Web Services and Shopbop units, as well 39 current job openings for data scientist and software development engineer.

Colorado Springs, with a population of 465,000, benefits from the Air Force Academy and one University of Colorado campus. Ivanti, a software designer based in Utah, plans to hire 50 to 75 people in that city this year, Anders said.

The rankings in the LinkedIn analyst found metro areas with a minimum of 20,000 LinkedIn members with engineering or IT talent.

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