Career Regional Focus: Phoenix rises, Las Vegas soars
By Alan Earls
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While there are significant differences between these two cities of the Southwest, they are united by a positive business climate and a sense that they are both on the path to growth. Business leaders and those in the technology community echoed these feelings. For instance, a new study released by economist Howard J. Wall at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis ranked Las Vegas as the "most livable metropolitan area" based on the number of people who "vote with their feet" and have moved to the city. In his ranking, the number three city is Phoenix, with Atlanta grabbing the second position.
Although a recent Dun & Bradstreet study showed Arizona below the national average in information technology startups, an American Electronics Association "Cybercities" report identified Phoenix as the 12th largest high-tech city in the nation based on employment numbers. Ed Denison, executive director of the Arizona Software and Internet Association says the numbers he sees are almost all positive. Denison says the state as a whole has about 110,000 information technology workers and 3,200 IT-based companies -- and the sector is growing at 12 percent a year. The association he heads up has grown meteorically from 60 members two years ago to 470 today.
"It is a great market for employers and employees," says Denison, with successful, growing companies and a climate that keeps attracting new talent. Denison says he believes the average IT wage in Arizona in 2000 was about $54,000 -- some $14,000 lower than the national average. However, he says, that is balanced by "not having difficult commutes and a great quality of life with lakes, mountains, and four major sports teams."
"All those positives are what make us call it the Tech Oasis," Denison adds.
Jane Whisner, managing director of Eastridge Infotech, a recruiting firm, says the local economy in Las Vegas remains strong, with several large firms planning to add 150-200 employees in the next 12-18 months. She says the casino and resort business also continue to grow their IT operations.
Dot-com growth is also a factor in the Las Vegas economy. In a recent article, Kirk Vanek, marketing manager at Analysts International, noted that Nevada has more domain names per capita than any other state. And Richard Fitzpatrick, president of IBAN, the Internet Business Association of Nevada says, "The region is growing and the technology sector is growing faster than any other part of the economy." In particular, Richardson says the IT economy is looking forward to the imminent passage of state legislation authorizing and regulating Internet gaming. Richardson says the state has developed a strong regulatory program for traditional "live" gaming and is in a good position to establish and regulate online gaming operations -- if they are based in Nevada. "This will bring a huge boost to the sector and a substantial addition to the technical job market here," he adds. Under the legislation, even the hardware and software staff of online gaming operations will have to be specially licensed. And that, says Richardson, will spell more opportunity for IT professionals.
Despite all the positives, the outlook isn?t strong for some specific technologies. Allen Plunkett, branch manager, consulting services for Robert Half International in Las Vegas, and a former manager in the firm's Phoenix office, says Las Vegas is developing as Phoenix did about five years ago. He sees opportunities in both cities for SAP and storage pros -- and especially for networking people. "SAP is well established in Phoenix but it is just starting to be adopted, mostly by manufacturers, in Las Vegas," he says. Similarly, big investments in storage have begun in Phoenix but haven't broken the surface yet in Las Vegas. But, says Plunkett, networking skills are hot across both cities.
While Plunkett offers what he admits are "seat of the pants" descriptions of market conditions, other objective data tends to support his relatively rosy assessment. For example, SAP professionals in the Southwest as a whole ranked third nationally after the Pacific and Mid-Atlantic states with annual salaries averaging $98,167, according to recent tabulations from an interactive salary survey on the searchSAP.com site. However, the size of the market leaves much to be desired. A search on Flipdog.com, using SAP as the key word, showed fewer than 20 SAP-related positions currently available in the Phoenix area and only one in the Las Vegas area.
For storage professionals, the searchStorage.com Salary Survey ranked the Southwest third, behind the Pacific coast and New England regions with an average salary of $97,035. However, as with SAP skills, a search on Flipdog.com, using SAN as a key word, produced disappointing results: fewer than half-a-dozen SAN-related positions currently available in the Phoenix area and only one in the Las Vegas area.
For networking professionals the story was different. While the relative ranking of salaries for the region, as reported on searchNetworking.com's interactive salary survey, was slightly lower, job opportunities were abundant. The region ranked fourth after the Pacific, New England, and Mid-Atlantic areas with annual average salaries of $56,946. Meanwhile, a search on Flipdog.com, using networking as a key word, showed more than 600 positions currently available in the Phoenix area. Las Vegas also looked good for networking professionals relative to the SAP and storage opportunities. Still, the numbers aren't large. A search produced a bare dozen available positions.
David A. Small, president of Houston-based Scientific Placement, Inc., a recruitment firm that also serves the Southwest market, recommends putting the salaries and job availability in context. "I think of the job market as being broken down into two separate worlds," he says. Type A companies are those developing the technology such as Microsoft, Adobe, Apple, and many others, he says. Type B, in Small's schema, is the universe of companies buying and utilizing those technologies in their businesses. One type or the other generally dominates different regions -- and some regions, like Greater Boston, have both.
"Phoenix has some type A jobs but isn't a major market like Austin, Boston, San Jose, or Seattle would be," says Small. In Las Vegas, he says, type A activity is still insignificant. However, he adds, "both Phoenix and Las Vegas have quite a few companies that are using computers in their business so both have type B jobs, though Phoenix is by far the larger of the two markets."
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About the author: Alan Earls is is a technology and business writer based in Franklin, Mass.