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How the Three D.C. Area Labor Markets Stack Up to Other Amazon HQ2 Finalists

March 10, 2018 by Joshua Wright

The majority of D.C.’s software developers are employed in Fairfax County, and at least 10,000 commute into the county for work.

Amazon very well might pick Atlanta, Raleigh, or Austin for its second headquarters, but much of the buzz as the start of spring nears is centered on the Washington, D.C. region.

Three of the 20 HQ2 finalists sit in the D.C. metro: Washington, D.C. itself, Northern Virginia (Loudoun, Fairfax, Arlington counties plus Alexandria), and Montgomery County, Maryland.

All three make good sense, in their own way, as landing spots for Amazon.

We examined the labor market for each of these D.C.-area locations, knowing that Amazon has said talent—especially software talent—will be one of the key decision criteria. Big picture: If Amazon chooses the D.C. area for HQ2, it will absorb workers from across the metro and beyond. (With that in mind, we compared the D.C. metro to the rest of the finalists in a joint analysis with the Austin American-Statesman.)

Here are few things we learned from our data deep-dive on D.C.:

1. Fairfax County is D.C.’s Software Hub

Fairfax County, part of the Northern Virginia bid, has 43% of all software developer and computer programmer jobs in the D.C. metro. That’s 28,000 out of an estimated 65,000 software workers. (For this analysis, we included software developers, applications; software developers, system software; and computer programmers.)

The next-highest total in the D.C. area is Montgomery County, with approximately 8,300 developers and programmers.

What’s more, Emsi’s place-of-residence occupation data indicates at least 10,700 of the 28,000 developers and programmers that work in Fairfax County commute from elsewhere (see map above and table below). Compare that to 2,600 of the District’s 7,300 software workers.

County2012 Software Developer/Computer Progammer Jobs2017 Software Developer/Computer Progammer Jobs2017 Share of Total D.C. Software Jobs2017 Net CommutersMedian Hourly Earnings
Fairfax County, VA29,06228,06443.1%10,762$56.59
Montgomery County, MD8,1678,26712.7%(563)$53.59
District of Columbia County, DC6,8097,37511.3%2,603$51.58
Arlington County, VA5,1036,3369.7%2,528$56.79
Loudoun County, VA3,9844,4136.8% (3,104)$51.79
Prince George's County, MD3,5383,1014.8% (1,984)$54.29
Alexandria City County, VA2,0412,0093.1%167$50.87
Prince William County, VA1,2831,3282.0% (3,809)$49.54
Frederick County, MD1,0229411.4%(820)$47.08
Manassas City County, VA9027621.2%240$53.53
Source: Emsi 2018.1 (Employees)

Fairfax County is D.C.’s software hub, but its concentration of these workers has eroded a bit the last six years. The county shed roughly 1,000 software jobs from 2012 to 2017.

Arlington County, also part of the NoVa bid, has added the most developers and programmers among D.C.-area counties—over 1,200 for 24% growth in the last six years.

2. Northern Virginia Has a Lot of Computer Talent, Period

The largest industry sector in the Northern Virginia region is professional, scientific, and technical services. It employs more than twice as many workers as the federal government (233,000 to 109,000).

Drilling in, the single largest industry in Fairfax, Arlington, Loudoun, and Alexandria City County is computer systems design and related services, with more than 103,000 jobs in 2017. Computer systems design also comprises the most business establishments in the region (7,800). And while employment in this industry has gone up a modest 3% since 2012, the number of establishments has shot up 14%.

This bodes well for the NoVa bid.

Another plus for Northern Virginia: It has a sizable data center presence, primarily in Loudoun and Fairfax counties. Since 2012, Loudoun County has more than doubled its jobs in data processing, hosting, and related services (from 716 to 1,965).

3. Montgomery County’s Workforce Is Scientist- (And Tech-) Focused

Montgomery County, Maryland, also has a large concentration of computer systems design service jobs, albeit at a smaller scale than Northern Virginia. But its real calling card is a robust R&D and science-related workforce.

Nearly 14,000 life, physical, and social scientists work in Montgomery County, a concentration that’s 3.5 times higher than the national average.

Montgomery County is still a tech powerhouse for its size, though, with lots of finance talent, too. It has 28,600 jobs in computer and math occupations—exactly twice the national share based on its 2017 location quotient—and nearly 40,000 business and financial jobs.

4. The Strength of D.C.’s Bid is the Full Region

The District of Columbia itself is home to around 780,000 jobs. That’s the most of any county in the D.C. metro, yet just over 5% of those jobs (44,000) are in computer and math occupations—and as we noted earlier, it only has 7,300 software developers and computer programmers.

The real power of D.C. is the metro as a whole—the District, Northern Virginia, Montgomery County, and 18 other Virginia and Maryland counties.

The Washington, D.C. metro has the second-most software developers and programmers among HQ2 finalists, well behind first-place New York City MSA but comparable to Seattle, Amazon’s main headquarters (65,000 to 69,000). Toronto isn’t listed in the table below, but it has 57,000 software engineers/designers and computer programmers/interactive media developers, per Emsi’s Canadian data,

MSA Name2017 Software Developer/Computer Progammer Jobs2016 Software/Computer Programming Educational Completions2016 Software/Computer Programmer Median Hourly Earnings
New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA110,7855,570$50.07
Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA69,3171,688$60.29
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV65,1024,893$54.37
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA60,7044,714$51.51
Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH58,7393,451$53.55
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX44,4051,881$49.72
Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI43,8844,396$46.11
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA39,7801,516$46.03
Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD31,3431,517$46.82
Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO26,4261,006$51.40
Austin-Round Rock, TX22,456594$48.34
Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL16,3502,175$39.01
Columbus, OH14,582660$45.00
Raleigh, NC11,9041,030$46.55
Pittsburgh, PA10,9131,980$39.02
Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson, IN9,261708$36.56
Nashville-Davidson--Murfreesboro--Franklin, TN6,405446$39.42
Source: Emsi 2018.1 (Employees)

D.C. ranks even more favorably in tech talent pipeline. In 2016, New York produced the most college graduates with software and computer programming degrees (5,570), but D.C. was a close second, with just under 4,900 grads.

Considering the New York MSA has three times the number of jobs, the D.C. metro’s educational output is impressive.

Read our original Amazon Talent Index, before the finalists were named. To learn more about any of these data metrics or reports, or to learn more about Emsi, email Josh Wright or call 208-883-3500. 

Joshua Wright

Reach out at jwright@economicmodeling.com

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