Tech talent: Atlanta improves but regional rivals close behind

The NCR headquarters building is located in Midtown Atlanta next to the Downtown Connector. Photo taken Jan. 30, 2021. (Andy Peters / andy.peters@ajc.com)
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The NCR headquarters building is located in Midtown Atlanta next to the Downtown Connector. Photo taken Jan. 30, 2021. (Andy Peters / andy.peters@ajc.com)

Credit: Andy Peters

Credit: Andy Peters

City ranks 8th in country, according to CBRE study

Atlanta’s reputation as an East Coast tech hub continues to grow, but plenty of competitors in neighboring states are close behind.

The city also has struggled to keep tech workers from migrating elsewhere, according to a new study ranking the top 50 metro areas on variables including technology graduates, real estate costs and employee diversity.

Atlanta was the highest-ranked Southeast city in 2020 for the quantity and quality of its tech talent, according to the in-depth report by commercial real estate firm CBRE. It ranked 8th among U.S. and Canadian cities, one spot higher than 2019.

West Coast tech giants like Microsoft and Airbnb have announced expansion plans here in recent months, drawn in part by Atlanta’s Black tech talent. Local economic development officials continue to aggressively recruit companies in the tech industry, which is growing faster and pays higher wages than many other industries.

The number of tech employees in the Atlanta region rose 15% from 2015 to 2020, to 143,780, CBRE said. The average yearly wage of tech workers in Atlanta grew 14% to $99,739 in the same period.

More than $7.1 billion was invested in Atlanta-area tech companies over the same period, according to investment firm BIP Capital. In the first half of 2021, about $2 billion of venture capital deals closed in Georgia, according to the National Venture Capital Association.

The city’s 90.5% growth rate in completed technology degrees between 2014 and 2019 was the highest among the CBRE report’s top 10 cities. The number of women in Atlanta graduating with tech degrees increased 25% during that period, on pace with Washington, D.C., and Austin, Texas.

About 36% of Atlanta’s tech talent workforce also is comprised by Blacks or Hispanics, trailing only San Antonio. After the Black Lives Matter protests last summer, American employers have vowed to improve racial diversity in their ranks.

ExploreWest Coast heads east: Atlanta’s Black talent lures tech titans

But Atlanta still trails other cities in measurements like tech labor supply and average wages. The top five ranked metro areas by CBRE were the San Francisco area, Seattle, Washington, D.C., Toronto and New York.

Brain drain is another problem, with lots of skilled labor leaving for other cities. The Atlanta region produced 15,633 more tech graduates than tech jobs between 2015 and 2020, better than New York and Boston but worse than Toronto and Seattle.

Nearby cities like Nashville, Charlotte and Raleigh scored better than Atlanta in areas such as retaining homegrown talent, tech job growth and the percentage of the overall population with a college degree.

In April, Apple picked the Raleigh-Durham area for a $1 billion tech hub where it will create 3,000 jobs, and Amazon chose Nashville for one of its major hubs in 2018. Truist, the bank formed by the merger of BB&T and SunTrust, picked Charlotte for its tech hub and headquarters.

CBRE also flagged Huntsville and Birmingham in Alabama as smaller nearby rivals with a cost advantage.

Still, Atlanta’s diverse economic base helps the region attract new employers seeking tech pros, said Brad MacAfee, CEO of recruiting firm Mission+Cause. Health insurance provider Anthem, railroad operator Norfolk Southern and payments giant NCR are building or have completed office towers in Midtown. All heavily recruit tech talent.

Professional organizations such as the Georgia Intellectual Property Alliance meanwhile support tech entrepreneurs with continuing education.

“There are universities graduating talent here but that’s part one,” MacAfee said. “You’ve also got to have infrastructure to support that talent.”

Two dozen metro Atlanta companies made the 2020 Deloitte North American Technology Fast 500, a list of the fastest-growing public and private tech companies, measured by revenue growth in percentage terms. A decade earlier, Atlanta had nine startups on the annual list.

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