The Cruel Information Economy: The U.S. Cities Winning In This Critical Sector


Arguably the most critical industry in the new economy, information is also often the cruelest. It is the ultimate disruptor of jobs and growth, blessing some regional economies but leaving most in the dust. Overall, the sector accounts for almost 3 million jobs, but it has only added a paltry net 70,000 jobs over the last five years. The overall numbers mask a loss of about 200,000 jobs in newspapers, book publishing, broadcasting and telecommunications, while employment in software publishing, data processing and other tech-driven information jobs has expanded by a modest 240,000 jobs (manufacturing, by comparison, has produced three times that amount in the same period).

Our rankings for the best cities for information jobs are perhaps the most skewed of any occupational category. With more traditional industries like business services, hospitality and construction, employment tends to rise across all the country’s metropolitan areas, if not at the same pace everywhere. In the case of the information sector, the vast majority of the metropolitan statistical areas for which we have data have lost information jobs since 2010 (204 out of 336 MSAs).

Yet there are clear winners in the information sweepstakes, with a handful of metro areas that have seized the initiative in the field and run with it.

Information, particularly its media segment, has shown a strong proclivity to concentrate in a handful of places. Whether it’s a matter of where venture funds are concentrated, or that cross-fertilization and creative flair are driving this, it’s hard to say. But in the emerging digital economy, notes a recent Neiman study, clusters industries in the places where creators of content live. For the most part, as of yet, blue collar metro areas need not apply.

Info-Age Winners

Our rankings are based on employment growth in the sector over the short-, medium- and long-term, going back to 2005, and factor in momentum — whether growth is slowing or accelerating. (For a detailed description of our methodology, click here.)

At the top of our list of the largest metropolitan statistical areas, not surprisingly, is San Francisco-Redwood City-South San Francisco. Since 2010, led by the growth of such companies as TwitterFacebook and, the metro area’s information employment has expanded 62% to 61,000 jobs. The pace of growth is slowing, to 6.85% last year, but still very healthy.

Right behind San Francisco is the larger information-based economy of its neighbor Silicon Valley. The San Jose metro area, home to such information economy titans as Google and Netflix, has 76,000 information jobs, up a none-too-shabby 57.4% since 2010; last year its 9.3% job growth rate outstripped even San Francisco. Together these two areas have emerged as the superstars of the information age, and no other large metro is really close in terms of growth.

Yet the information boom has other epicenters that have emerged over the past decade. Among the large metro areas, Seattle-Bellevue-Everett ranks seventh on our list. It boasts 98,000 information jobs, third most in the country behind much larger New York and Los Angeles. Since 2010 the Puget Sound powerhouse, home to Microsoft, Amazon and a host of start-ups, has seen its information employment expand a healthy 15.3%.

Seattle’s little brother, Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, Ore., ranks eighth. Since 2010 Portland’s information employment has grown over 12% to 25,500 workers.

Among the very largest of our metro areas, New York has managed fairly impressive growth in its media-dominated information sector, with employment expanding 12.1% since 2010 to 191,000 workers, second in total numbers, and with no sign of growth flagging.

It’s doing much better than the Big Apple’s two traditional rivals, Chicago and Los Angeles. The Windy City and its environs have expanded information employment by 5% since 2010 to with 73,100 jobs, placing it 19th. Los Angeles follows in 20th place. L.A. is home to the largest information sector in the U.S., with 203,800 workers, but despite its well-established base, much of it in entertainment, it has managed only 3.5% growth since 2010.

Will Information Jobs Head To The Sun Belt?

The growth of information employment in large, dense and expensive urban areas, notably New York and San Francisco, has been widely celebrated by advocates of traditional cities. Yet this same pattern also developed in the last tech bubble in the late 1990s, and then reversed as companies collapsed, and many of the survivors moved operations to less expensive regions.

Could we see a repeat now? High housing costs are putting homeownership out of reach even for fairly affluent families in San Francisco and New York. Already some tech workers are relocating to lower-cost areas. Many more may do so in the future, suggests a recent Beacon Economics study, or resign themselves to being permanent renters.

This year’s list may show some of the places both tech and information jobs may be headed in the next few years. The clear rising star is Phoenix, which ranks third. The desert city’s information workforce has expanded by 39.29% since 2010, the third highest increase of any metropolitan area, just behind the Bay Area twins. In recent years a growing list of Bay Area firms have expanded into the Valley of the Sun, including DoubleDutch, Gainsight, Uber, Prosper Marketplace, Yelp, Weebly, BoomTown and Shutterfly. Silicon Valley Bank set up shop there five years ago as well.

Other lower-cost locales are also doing well on our big metro list, including No. 4 Raleigh, N.C., No. 5 Austin-Round Rock, Texas,  and No. 10 Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. All have enjoyed double-digit information job growth since 2010.

Although information jobs tend to concentrate in bigger metros, there are several smaller metro areas that appear to be on the cusp of becoming key hubs for the industry. The fastest growth over the past five years has been in Provo-Orem, Utah, where information employment has expanded 43.8% to 11,400 jobs. Other fast-rising smaller stars include Flagstaff, Ariz.,  Durham-Chapel Hill, N.C.,  Madison, Wisc., Bend-Redmond, Ore., and Portsmouth, N.H. All these metro areas have enjoyed information job growth of 20% or more since 2010, albeit off small bases.

The Likely Future of Information Growth

Clearly information jobs cluster, although they do so in varied kinds of environments. To be sure, the biggest players likely will continue to be in the largest cities, notably in the Bay Area, New York, Seattle and, as long as Hollywood stays strong, Southern California as well. But the high prices in these areas seem to be leading to growth in a host of second-tier cities spread from Florida to Arizona, where tech workers can enjoy a combination of lower home costs and at least some urban amenities.

Similarly, while most smaller cities may never become information hubs, some clearly will. For the most part these will be either university towns such as Chapel Hill (home to the University of North Carolina), Provo-Orem (Brigham Young) and Madison (University of Wisconsin). Other will be located in amenity-rich, scenic areas like Flagstaff and Bend, Ore., where outdoor-oriented tech workers may find a way to work remotely from the big city hubs.

But under any foreseeable future, it’s unlikely that information job growth will be strong enough to help in a measurable way the fortunes of most communities. Traditional advantages in terms of taxes, location on rivers or the ocean, or access to cheap energy is simply not enough to lure these jobs to a wide array of locales. Information may be a stellar force in some areas, but it has very picky tastes that preclude it from being as transformative in job creation as it is in our daily lives.

This piece first appeared at Forbes.

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of He is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book, The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us, will be published in April by Agate. He is also author of The New Class ConflictThe City: A Global History, and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Orange County, CA.

Michael Shires, Ph.D. is a professor at Pepperdine University School of Public Policy.

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The "job creation problem" is leverage.
One programmer can create an app used by 50M people.
One job is created.
This is just not possible with physical goods.

Dave Barnes