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Report: Inland Empire the second-fastest growing region for high-tech jobs


SAN BERNARDINO SUN.  JANUARY 15, 2013.  In the past 12 years, the Inland Empire beat out high-tech hubs like Seattle, San Francisco and Silicon Valley in the creation of high-tech jobs.

From 2001 through 2012, high-tech jobs grew by 18.6 percent. Only the Washington, D.C., suburbs outpaced the trio of Riverside, San Bernardino and Ontario.

The ranking was created in a report by the Praxis Strategy Group, an economic strategy development firm and published atForbes.comand

The Inland Empire's growth in high-tech jobs was checked briefly during the recessionary years - it dropped to 1.4 percent between 2005 and 2012 - but was up to 2.2 percent between 2010 and 2012.

Silicon Valley doesn't need to watch its back just yet, though: The raw number of high-tech jobs in the Inland Empire is still small: There are 5,267 high-tech jobs in San Bernardino County, spread out among 310 companies, according to the California Employment Development Department.

In contrast, Silicon Valley had almost twice that many high-tech openings in 2012: There were 9,874 job listings for Silicon Valley companies between January and August 2012, according to a report from Bright Labs.

In other words, while the percentage change is big, the raw number of jobs is still small.

"It is a lot of growth on a small base," said Mary Jane Olhasso, San Bernardino County's economic development administrator.

The region's colleges and universities, including Cal State San Bernardino, Cal Poly Pomona, UC Riverside and the private colleges and universities in the region are "where the future lies," she said.

"That's where your entrepreneurs are going to develop. That's where your (new ideas and technologies) will hopefully captured and not leave the region."

But local schools, including a growing number of high school programs, are also preparing students for a high-tech workforce, primarily through a bolstered STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum.

Educating the region's students for the jobs of the future is critical to the Inland Empire's economic success, according to Pam Clute, assistant vice chancellor of educational and community engagement at UC Riverside and the executive director of the Federation for A Competitive Economy.

"If the jobs are here, and Forbes seems to think that they are, and we can train our young people to jump into them, the chances are that they'll stay in the community and give back to the economy," Clute said. "The jobs are in logistics, and logistics requires a major education in computer technology. The jobs are in health care. ... There are a lot of jobs for math and science teachers."

The opportunities aren't limited to those fields.

"We keep hearing from employer surveys (that) laboratory technicians, across many sectors and industries, are still big in demand," said Zhenya Lindstrom, director of Center of Excellence at Chaffey College. Employers are also looking for mechanical engineers and workers who can maintain an increasingly automated supply chain in warehouses and other industrial enterprises.

"Energy still creates opportunity," Lindstrom said. "Barstow College and the College of the Desert offer programs to train solar technicians ... . They've been successful both training and placing people in jobs."

The growth of these new jobs isn't just a blip, according to Clute.

"Between now and 2018, there's going to be 3 million new jobs in the STEM fields" nationwide, she said. "If you are a STEM major, you are going to make $500,000 more over your lifetime, than a non-STEM major, even if you don't go into a STEM career."

Many of these high-tech jobs may not be new, but rather be the replacement for older, less-high tech jobs.

"There are some pockets of opportunity here. I wouldn't say that we've recovered quickly (or) we have tons of jobs available," Lindstrom said. Unemployment was still at 11 percent in Nov. 2012, down only 0.3 percent from the month before. "They're replacing the jobs that were more manual."