Mark Muro is bullish on Chicago tech.

The city has been getting more attention in recent years, with a steady procession of companies that have grabbed attention for fast growth, IPOs or big paydays, including Groupon, Grubhub, Cleversafe, Fieldglass and Braintree. Now the data are backing it up.

“What’s interesting is we now see Chicago on the shortlist of places in the U.S. expanding their share of the digital tech industry,” says Muro, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who analyzed where the jobs have been added recently. “We think that’s the most fundamental indicator of competitiveness.”

A rising tech tide doesn’t lift all boats equally. In a new report by Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program, Muro says 86 of the nation’s largest 100 metros have either seen their share of the national tech employment pie go sideways or actually shrink since 2010. Six actually lost tech jobs.

The San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley led the way, adding 59,000 jobs between 2013 and 2015, growing about 12 percent, according to an analysis of Moody’s Analytics data. Together, they made up 10 percent of the nation’s digital services employment in 2015, up from 9 percent in 2013 and 7.7 percent in 2010, Brookings says.

Because of the law of large numbers the only metro areas that grew faster than the Bay Area were Austin, Texas (16 percent), Charlotte (15 percent) and Indianapolis (14 percent).

Chicago grew about 5.8 percent annually between 2013 and 2015, good for 20th out of the top 30 cities in terms of percentage growth. That’s roughly the same pace as New York, Denver, Atlanta and Portland, Ore., and slightly faster than Seattle and Boston.

In terms of total jobs added, Chicago ranked eighth with 10,000.

The San Francisco area topped the list with 31,500 jobs, followed by the San Jose region at 27,500. New York was third with 24,200 jobs, trailed by Dallas with 15,400 jobs.

“I wasn’t surprised Chicago was large and growing, but that it’s growing fast enough to seize significant national market share,” Muro says.

While it was in the middle of the pack the past two years, Chicago increased its share of the tech-employment pie at the fastest pace of any Midwest city between 2010 and 2015.
Muro even put Chicago in the same sentence as Austin as a tech hub between the coasts. I wouldn’t go that far. But this is the second time this week that Chicago’s tech image has gotten a boost. Chicago cracked the Top 10 in a KPMG survey of emerging global tech cities.

Muro’s data largely echo research by real estate firm CBRE, which has been tracking tech cities for several years. (There are two ways to track tech: total employment at tech companies and tech employment at all companies. Muro tracked jobs at companies in four tech categories: software, data processing and hosting, computer system design and other information services. CBRE uses a larger group of industries.)

Here’s one more interesting piece of data from Brookings, which also took a broader look at the knowledge economy by tracking 25 industries, including various sectors: Computer systems design, which has been growing fast in recent years, just barely edged out management consulting, the traditional leader when it comes to high-skill jobs in Chicago, in total jobs for the first time in 2015.

That’s the surest sign that tech is making its move in Chicago.


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