In Philadelphia, Large Employers Are Riding Out the Recession

A current analysis of employment prospects in Philadelphia has to begin with some bad news: The biggest
year-over-year increase in June unemployment rates among major metropolitan
areas belongs to the City of Brotherly
Love and its four surrounding counties. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that
the jobless rate in those five counties increased 1.2 points from 8.1 percent
in June 2009 to 9.3 percent in June 2010. Coming at a time when the national
unemployment rate is at least holding steady, this is unsettling news.

PhiladelphiaHaving set the stage in such an unpromising way, are hiring
prospects looking up in the Philly tech sector? Perhaps. During the worst of
the recession, the Pennsylvania high-tech
industry, much of it centered in Philadelphia,
experienced blips of job growth with a gain of about 3,800 jobs while the rest
of the economy stalled, according to TechAmerica’s
Cyberstates 2010 report.

Today, Pennsylvania
ranks eighth nationwide in total high-tech employment (there are 216,000
high-tech workers) and is a leader in several sectors, ranking fifth in electronic
components manufacturing, for example. "The fact that Pennsylvania was
adding tech jobs at the beginning of the recession when the private sector had
already stagnated, points to the ability of tech to withstand this downturn,"
Peter J. Boni, president and chief
executive of Safeguard Scientifics, told
TechAmerica.

Greater Philadelphia’s
information technology sector is the sixth largest in the country, with large presences
including ACS International, CAI, Comcast, Computer Science
Corp.
, Lockheed Martin, SAP North America, Siemens and Unisys. In
fact, Lockheed Martin, Comcast, Siemens
Healthcare
, Verizon, and SAP are
the area’s largest tech employers, a healthy mix of defense, communications,
healthcare/pharma, and services. There’s also a lively startup scene, best
represented by Philly Startup
Leaders
, a group devoted to building the city’s startup community. New
businesses feed off the dynamism of the region’s 80 universities, not to
mention the Wharton School of Business.

Philadelphia Job PostingsAre all these employers hiring? On Dice, Philly job listings currently number 1,691, down on the most
recent month-to-month trend but up an encouraging 18.2 percent from a year ago,
one more sign that the tech sector is healthier than the overall economy. A
quick survey of the top employers’ own job postings shows several dozen
professional-level IT positions available, with a predominant demand for
software engineers of all types. .NET, Java, Oracle and SAP skills are
perennially in demand.

As for pay, in the 2010 Dice Salary Survey, the average IT
salary in Philadelphia
was found to be $78,369. That’s around where it’s been for a while, and it’s just
a touch below the national average. Joseph
Santora
, Philadelphia
regional manager for IT recruiter Sapphire
Technologies
, says that pay scales for the postings he’s currently seeing
are generally increasing this year, another good sign. "Jobs in functional
roles such as project management and business analysis are really seeing an
uptick," says Santora. "Companies are starting to spend money getting
projects that may have been sitting around for a while back into the
pipeline."

Interestingly, Philadelphia
is one place where the technology slice of federal economic stimulus funds may also
help create jobs. The city’s ambitious 2005 "Wireless Philadelphia"
plan to make the city into one big WiFi zone never took off once its private
partner, EarthLink, bailed out.
However, a newly imagined "Digital Philadelphia" plan may use up to
$100 million of stimulus funds to created a scaled-back version of municipal
WiFi to be used by city government and emergency workers. The funding isn’t
guaranteed, but City Hall has stated its commitment to build out government
WiFi no matter what. Blake Jennelle,
the founder of Philly Startup Leaders, has praised the city’s "self-help ethos."
It may need it now more than ever.

– Don Willmott

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