In a spreading tech environment, Wisconsin must strive to compete

Gone are the days when people associated Kansas City only with factories, railroads, and great barbecue, even though all three still flourish. Today, Kansas City is also a technology hub for companies such as Cerner, Garmin, DST Systems, Honeywell, and Sprint, and it’s one of the most wired cities in America.

With a metro population roughly the size of Milwaukee, Kansas City and the region’s 68,000 tech workers stand as a Midwest example of how sectors such as software, digital media, and health information are no longer the exclusive domains of Silicon Valley, Boston, and Austin.

It’s also a reminder of why Wisconsin must compete in the race to grow and attract tech-based businesses and talent.

Parts of the Kansas City tech scene were highlighted during a recent gathering of U.S. and Canadian technology council leaders, who met to talk about ways to boost their respective state and provincial economies. The meeting was timely: A recent industry report confirmed that tech-based jobs make up an expanding share of the U.S. economy, even within businesses that aren’t always identified as “tech.”

The report from CompTIA, the nation’s leading technology association, examined about 50 Standard Occupational Codes, predominantly in computing, engineering, and telecommunications. The state-by-state breakdown revealed some encouraging facts about Wisconsin.

  • Wisconsin has 214,890 “net” tech jobs, good for 19th among the 50 states. That’s a formulaic combination of two categories: 104,896 tech industry jobs and 160,330 tech occupation jobs, the latter number reflecting other professionals who work for tech-based companies.
  • Wisconsin added 4,546 net tech jobs in 2018 over 2017, which represented a 2.2 percent increase.
  • Net tech employment represents 7.1 percent of Wisconsin’s total workforce, which exceeds 3 million people.
  • Wisconsin has 7,592 tech business establishments, which can range from one-person startups to major firms.
  • There were 56,825 tech job postings for Wisconsin throughout all of 2018, which was a 92 percent increase of 2017. That speaks to challenges in finding talent — and growth in the number of businesses that are hiring.
  • The estimated contribution of the tech sector to the Wisconsin economy was $21.5 billion, or 7.2 percent of the gross state product.
  • Median tech occupation wages are $66,815, or 64 percent higher than median state wages overall.

Leading tech sectors in Wisconsin’s employment totals were IT and custom software services; research and development, testing, and engineering; telecommunications and internet services; tech manufacturing; and software and web developers.

The CompTIA report, called “Cyberstates,” noted 46 states added to their base of tech business establishments. Not surprisingly, California recorded the largest year-over-year increase with 2,348, but Wisconsin ranked among the top five states in adding businesses — a group that also included Arizona, Texas, and Minnesota.



Wisconsin showed 7,592 tech-based businesses in 2018 compared with 6,556 in 2017, CompTIA reported. Again, that can include a lot of one-person shops, but the increase suggests there’s more happening with tech-based startups than other national surveys might suggest.

“Wisconsin's growth in business establishments was driven heavily by additions in IT services firms and custom software development firms,” said Steven Ostrowski, director of corporate communications for CompTIA. “This tracked closely with the growth in employment in these industry sectors … 4.6 percent increase in employment with packaged software companies and 3.7 percent increase in IT services firms and custom software companies.”

Wisconsin also performed better, in percentage terms, in tech jobs held by women. Wisconsin ranked seventh among the states in the percent of tech-sector female workers (34.5 percent; 35,887) and third in the percentage of tech occupation female workers (23.5 percent; 37,219).

There is plenty of work to be done. Tech wages in Wisconsin consistently lag those in most states, including Midwestern neighbors. Only Indiana showed a lower median wage. Milwaukee is making progress as a tech hub but added only about 10 percent (458) of the state’s total increase in net tech employment.

Tech jobs, whether they are found inside tech-based companies or in other business sectors, are vital to state and regional economies. Wisconsin is no exception to what is becoming a national rule.

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