Much attention is paid to STEM jobs, and understandably so. Regions with a high density of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics workers generally have higher job growth, better wages, more patents, and score better on other economic indicators than non-STEM areas—all trends researched in detail by Jonathan Rothwell of the Brookings Institution.
But another way to measure innovation and economic growth in the labor market is via private-sector research and development jobs, something the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) does well in its excellent regional economic indicators website. As CMAP summarizes on its site, “A creative, innovative workforce plays an essential role in spurring economic growth, and a growing research and development employment base increases a region’s innovative capacity.”
CMAP, an EMSI client that provides data-rich economic and labor market research for the Chicago region, looked at private-sector R&D employment using one industry: scientific research and development services (NAICS 5417). For this post, we explored R&D job trends nationwide and for every metropolitan and micropolitan statistical area in the U.S. using EMSI data from our labor market analysis tool.
The big picture: R&D employment is expanding, albeit not as rapidly since the recession as it did beforehand—and not in most areas with the highest proportion of R&D jobs.
In 2013, the U.S. had around 636,000 jobs in scientific research and development services, up 2% from 2010 and 18% from 2003. That’s solid long-term growth for an industry where average annual earnings approach $130,000 per year. Just under 70% of private-sector R&D jobs were related to physical, engineering, and life sciences, while R&D jobs in the social sciences and humanities—a much smaller sector—declined 12% from 2003 to 2013.
R&D jobs are centered in many prominent areas for tech jobs (e.g., San Francisco, San Jose, Durham-Chapel Hill, North Carolina). But they’re also clustered in regions that have strong concentrations of STEM jobs, especially regions that have seen an influx of federal government dollars. This includes Los Alamos and Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Idaho Falls, Idaho. (Los Alamos and Idaho Falls, the two most-concentrated MSAs, are home to or near Department of Energy national laboratories.)
In five of the six most-concentrated MSAs for R&D employment, the number of R&D jobs has declined post-recession—and in some cases, the decline has been substantial. Idaho Falls has seen a 17% reduction of its R&D workforce in the last few years, more than 1,200 jobs lost. Kennewick-Richland, Washington, has seen a 10% dip.
Even Durham-Chapel Hill, in a hotbed for innovation as part of the Research Triangle, hasn’t been immune to job cuts. R&D employment in the cities home to Duke University and the University of North Carolina totals nearly 10,000 jobs—a share of total employment seven times the national average. But jobs in the scientific R&D industry fell a modest 2% from 2010 to 2013, a loss of 226 jobs. The slowdown follows 62% growth R&D employment from 2003 to 2010.
The Washington-Arlington-Alexandria metro area has three times the national average of R&D jobs, but the D.C. metro lost 3,400 of these jobs from 2010 to 2013. That’s a 7% drop after R&D employment rose 8% from 2003 to 2010, half the national growth rate over that time.
Does A High Concentration of R&D Jobs Lead to Better Overall Job Growth?
For MSAs with the highest share of R&D jobs, we also looked at job growth across all industries from 2010 to 2013 to see how R&D job growth or decline compares with overall job change. The answer: In the most-concentrated metros, which happen to be smaller, less dynamic economies, employment economy-wide has declined or only grown marginally since the recession. These are MSAs, as we showed above, where R&D job growth has been slow or in decline. All of Los Alamos’ economy has struggled, for example, as the national lab has pulled back jobs.
But in bigger, more economically diverse regions, job gains have been robust, even if R&D employment has lagged behind. Examples include Durham-Chapel Hill and San Diego. San Jose, meanwhile, is a real standout in both R&D employment (up 16%) and overall job growth (up 10%).
|MSA||2013 R&D Employment Concentration (LQ; 1.00=natl. avg.)||2013 R&D Jobs||2010 - 2013 R&D Job Change||2010 - 2013 R&D Job % Change||All 2013 Jobs||2010 - 2013 Change (All Jobs)||2010 - 2013 % Change (All Jobs)||R&D Share of All Jobs||2014 R&D Earnings||2014 Total Earnings (All Jobs|
|Source: EMSI 2014.2 - Employees|
|Los Alamos, NM||128.67||9,333||-956||-9%||15,958||-1,434||-8%||58%||$107,766||$87,807|
|Idaho Falls, ID||22.61||6,019||-1,228||-17%||58,578||-108||0%||10%||$101,327||$46,577|
|Durham-Chapel Hill, NC||7.33||9,711||-226||-2%||291,432||8,932||3%||3%||$118,429||$68,114|
|California-Lexington Park, MD||5.06||1,061||243||30%||46,128||1,307||3%||2%||$107,532||$78,439|
|San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA||4.91||21,763||3,001||16%||972,308||90,154||10%||2%||$183,829||$113,355|
|San Diego-Carlsbad, CA||4.60||30,086||-674||-2%||1,435,151||63,208||5%||2%||$175,198||$66,523|
The Most Competitive Metros for R&D Jobs
The Bay Area is also a hotspot for R&D regional competitiveness. The San Francisco and San Jose metros ranked 1-2 in R&D job growth from 201o to 2013 that can be traced to regional trends rather than national trends (using shift-share analysis). San Francisco added 4,300 R&D jobs, nearly 3,700 more than expected based on national factors. San Jose added 3,000 jobs; if it had followed national trends, it would have added fewer than 400.
Boston, Detroit, and Syracuse round out the top five in competitiveness. On the other side, economic heavyweights such as the New York, D.C., Chicago, and Houston metros are in the bottom five in R&D competitiveness. Houston saw a 22% decline in R&D jobs from 2010 to 2013, a loss of nearly 1,800 jobs. The only worse-performing big city in percentage job loss terms was St. Louis (-42%).
The Jobs That Make Up Scientific R&D Services
What kind of job titles are we talking about in private-sector R&D? What are the occupations that make up this industry? The staffing breakdown is different in every region, but there’s generally an eclectic mix of high-skill fields like medical scientists—the most-common R&D occupation nationally, with 6% of all jobs in the industry—and mid-skill occupations like social science research assistants.
Other common R&D jobs, per EMSI’s staffing pattern data for wage-and-salary employees: biological technicians, chemists, software developers, biochemists, mechanical engineers, aerospace engineers, and business operation specialists. With the exception of biological techs ($19.11), the median hourly wage for all of these fields is $30 and above.
Many of these well-paying jobs fall in the STEM category as well.
For more on EMSI’s employment data—available at the county, MSA, and ZIP code level—or to see data for your region, email Josh Wright. Follow EMSI on Twitter (@DesktopEcon) or check us out on LinkedIn and Facebook.