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Cities on the Brink

Five emerging hotspots where IT jobs are on the comeback... and you can live without breaking the bank

By Eric Luchman

Six years ago, when high-tech stocks were plummeting, start-up companies were taking a dive, and in general the short-lived but lucrative era was drawing to a close, you were probably still in school. Maybe even in high school, very much removed from the melee. But you've undoubtedly heard many stories about the bubble burst of 2000. You've seen the documentaries about the demise of once-profitable web-based companies. And maybe you've even wished you could have been at those over-the-top parties hosted for IT employees on luxurious hotel rooftops back before the stocks crashed.

But now it's 2006, and you're getting ready to look for a job. You're probably wondering if the IT market has gotten any better. Google, Mapquest and Expedia are all still around, so not all of the Internet start-ups from back then have disappeared. But certainly a lot of things have changed. The landscape, for one, is entirely different. Back in 2000, everyone in the IT field seemed to be flooding to places like Seattle and the Silicon Valley in California to work at the small start-up companies blooming there.

But today there has been a shift; IT professionals are more cautious about their money. And even the highest starting salaries might not go too far in areas like the Silicon Valley, Boston, and the most expensive place to live according to Forbes magazine, Seattle. Therefore, they are looking to make homes in other places throughout the country.

As you embark on your own job search, and you begin considering various cities to call home, it's important to ask yourself a series of questions about each location: How much is it going to cost to live there? How much is rent on average? How much is car insurance? You want to be able to enjoy your new surroundings, save some money, and not see all your hard work disappear because of the high cost of living. As you research and explore your options, many more financial questions will come to the surface.

In this article, Graduating Engineer & Computer Careers will take a look at some parts of the country you might not have previously considered, where IT jobs are on the comeback, and the price of a burger and fries won't cost you an arm and a leg. For example, have you ever thought about starting your IT career in Raleigh, N.C.? Or what about Austin, Texas? The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that both Austin and Raleigh-Durham will see double-digit employment growth over the next six years, mostly from tech jobs.

We have highlighted five emerging regions of the country that you will be interested to learn more about. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of IT hotspots, but it's a great way to start your research. Perhaps within these five cities you will find one that suits you.

A Place to Call Home

Newly emerging IT sectors have learned from the IT bust-if technology companies succeed, there is money to be made, money that goes directly into the local economy.

Many of the growing IT areas are centered around universities and oftentimes partner with them to support start-ups and research. Many of the areas and cities where IT is beginning to thrive are places where the local and state governments have made technology an important part of the economy.

Places like Raleigh-Durham have hosted technology companies for many years and are now seeing revival in the IT community.

For example, the textile industry in North Carolina is partnering with universities in the Raleigh-Durham area to create cost-effective manufacturing. And new areas like Albuquerque, N.M., are experiencing unprecedented growth because of the importance the governor has put on technology. These are just some of the signs to look for when choosing an affordable location to call home.

Hang Your Hat in the Southwest

Albuquerque, N.M., is a gem of the Southwest and has some of the hottest prospects for IT growth and affordability in the country. Dr. Joseph L Cecchi, dean of the College of Engineering, at the University of New Mexico, says that day-by-day, Albuquerque is becoming more attractive to IT companies, high tech employees and venture capitalists.

"With three major research universities and two major government labs, there is a large population of highly trained technology workers," Cecchi says. Just within the last two years, Eclipse and Aviation Technology have made Albuquerque their new headquarters.

"We also have great support from our state and local governments that encourages companies, national and international, to make Albuquerque their home," Cecchi adds.

Cecchi also explains that New Mexico governor Bill Richards places technology at the top of his priority list for economic development. When he travels to other countries, he discusses with executives the option of doing business with IT companies in New Mexico.

Not only are the new jobs and nice salaries in New Mexico attractive to IT workers, but so is the region's warm climate and rich diversity. As is University of New Mexico's Science Technology Corporation (STC), a non-profit organization which Cecchi chairs. STC is a place where new research and ideas can receive the capital and support they need from the technology community to get off the ground.

Triangle Park

Nestled between the Blue Ridge Mountains to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east rests the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina, also known as the "triangle."

These two cities come together to host three well-known academic institutions: Duke, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State. Along with these three schools is one of the premier research and development areas in the country, the Research Triangle Park (RTP). Though the RTP felt a big splash from the IT bubble burst, the area is still one of the best research and development regions in the country. Companies such as the SAS Institute, BASF and Glaxo Simth Kline all call the RTP their home. Forbes magazine ranks the Raleigh-Durham area number two for doing business and finding a career, and engineering is the only job category included in factoring this ranking.

Not that familiar with the Raleigh-Durham area? Not sure there would be enough to keep you occupied in the middle of North Carolina? You might be mistaken! With the influx of people coming to Raleigh-Durham for the warmer climate and hot job market, the area has responded with new developments that cater to the younger residents. And the three college campuses located in the area are a draw for national touring bands, and provide cheap eats and plenty of competitive sports entertainment.

Deep in the Heart of Texas

"For the last ten to fifteen years Austin has been a strong IT and engineering area," says Michael Powell, director of the Engineering Career Assistance Center, University of Texas at Austin.

"When the economy was down during the last five years, companies all over the country were impacted. But now things have picked up again in engineering and IT jobs, particularly related to oil and gas."

Powell also says that the students who go to school in Austin or move there to take a job become very fond of the area. "Austin is reasonably priced compared to bigger cities. The entertainment is comparable to a big city and rent is going to be much [cheaper]."

Austin is best known for its hot music scene, including the South By Southwest Festival, which features up-and-coming bands. As well as "Austin City Limits," which is seen on PBS each week.

The University of Texas at Austin also hosts the Austin Technological Incubator, a research facility that allows start-up technology companies to get on their feet through business and academic consulting. The Incubator has helped many new companies go public and created many new jobs. A majority of those companies end up staying in Austin.

Houston is an oil town and could be called the energy capital of the United States. Now the country's fourth largest city, Houston is home to Conoco Phillips, Sysco and Reliant Energy. Citgo also recently relocated its headquarters to Houston. Oil is making Houston a hub for everything energy related. From finance companies like Goldman Sachs to consultant giant Accenture, and from investment banking to support services, oil is everyone's focus in Houston.

However, IT companies like International Instrument, Microsoft and Intel have a special interest in the Houston area, too. "One trend that is impacting the Houston job market is the aging workforce in the oil and gas industry," says Cheryl Matherly, assistant dean of students, Rice University. "Companies are looking to create succession plans to replace a large number of retiring workers."

Standing Up to Seattle

Boise, Idaho might not be the behemoth of the Northwest that Seattle is, but Boise is a technology and engineering community that can proudly stand up to its West Coast rivals. A large percentage of this Northwest community's workforce holds engineering and IT jobs. According to Forbes, 5.3% of the jobs in Boise are engineering related, just behind the Silicon Valley's 6.2%. And the engineering community is positively impacted by the work of the academic community throughout the state. In 2004, the Milken Institute listed Boise as the number one metro area in its one-year and five-year high tech gross domestic product.

Idaho's three state universities have formed a partnership called TechHelp, which is based at Boise State University. TechHelp has assisted Idaho's manufacturers add more than $53 million to the state's economy by helping companies improve their manufacturing and engineering processes.

Tech Valley

After featuring cities in the Northwest and South, you might think we have a bias against our friends in the Northeast. Well, this is the closest to New York City we can get you without paying an exorbitant amount for a speedy two-block cab ride. The West Coast has Silicon Valley. But the East Coast has Tech Valley, an 18-county region in that begins north of New York City and runs nearly all the way to Montreal, Canada, with Albany being the main city.

Tech Valley is among the twelve fastest growing housing markets in the country. And the prices aren't yet out of control, according to MSN Money. According to the New York State Association of Realtors, the median home price in New York is $245,000, while the median home price in Tech Valley is $154,000. While you might not be in the market for a house right away, but that figure gives you an idea about the local economy.

Tech Valley, like its West Coast sister, is a hot bed for start-ups and venture capitalists looking to make it rich in IT. The area encourages start-up companies looking for a home and has plenty of job opportunities for an educated workforce.

Start-ups like Crystal IS, a nanotechnology company, and CORESense, a software company, are just a few of the companies that call Tech Valley home. The growth of the area is so strong that they are even planning a "Tech Valley West" in Silicon Valley!

The area offers a variety of activities for a young college grad. It sits along the Adirondack and Catskill Mountain ranges, providing plenty of scenic views and outdoor activities. Tech Valley is also home to colleges such as the University of Albany, Army and Union, which provides academic opportunities and sports competitions.

For students from other countries who want to call the United States their home, Tech Valley offers help in the transition to living in the United State permanently. Tech Valley's goal is to offer all of its residents a diverse lifestyle where many cultures converge, live and work together.

Making It Work

If you're looking for the spot where IT is making a resurgence, check out these five locations. They just might be the perfect place for you to call home. You'll find communities riding the wave of IT growth with all the amenities of any overpriced IT center-but where you won't have to take out a second mortgage for a double shot latte.

And these certainly aren't the only places in the U.S. where IT is seeing growth. If there is a particular city or area where you want to live that is not discussed in this article, do some research on it. Look at where it rates in comparison to other cities, call a friend or family member who lives in the area and see what their feelings are about it, or contact local organizations that will have more specific information.

Of course, if you're interested in living in San Francisco or Seattle, there are always ways to save your pennies: try living with your crazy relatives, serve your date instant ramen noodles, and always walk everywhere!

Eric Luchman is a free-lance writer based in Chicago.

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