Jacksonville’s IT Industry Is On The Rise

Today, iMethods employs 75 people and anticipates growing to 100 this year. The firm has recruited people from as far away as California for IT jobs.

“Most of the folks we work with in-depth view Jacksonville as up and coming,” Perce said. “There’s another contingent that is surprised there’s as much IT in Jacksonville as there is. The IT community is very healthy.”

As Northeast Florida’s unemployment rate dropped to 9.2 percent in December from 11.1 percent the previous year, iMethods is among the companies that is hiring and bringing attention to the city’s information technology field.

Jacksonville isn’t a tech mecca like Austin, Texas. An ongoing JAXUSA Partnership study of Northeast Florida’s economic development strategies found the region has fewer technology firms per 1,000 workers than the national average.

But information technology jobs are on the rise here. A report released this week by Jacksonville-based Modis, which specializes in technology staffing service, ranked the city ninth on the 12 best cities to find an information technology job in 2012.

Modis cited hiring demand in health care, the financial sector, insurance, and logistics and transportation in Jacksonville. Those companies are not technology firms, but they have information technology divisions that are growing.

In the past decade, Jacksonville has gained more of those technology-using companies that relocated here from northern states, said Modis Vice President Chad Moyer.

“When you do that, you have to bring in the talent,” he said.

WorkSource, the state-supported agency that matches employers with job-seekers, found technology ranked second behind retail sales in the number of Northeast Florida job postings in January.

IT salaries typically range from $50,000 to $60,000, WorkSource spokeswoman Candace Moody said.

The state Office of Economic Opportunity estimates Northeast Florida employers will have about 580 job openings this year for computer software engineers, support specialists, systems analysts and database administrators.

Moody said companies are hiring because technology has become a part of doing business. Sales and marketing is using social media more. Hospitals and physicians are making the move toward mandatory electronic record-keeping by 2014, a massive undertaking.

Information technology “transcends every industry,” Moody said. “You can’t live without it anymore.” It’s a field that requires constant upgrading of skills to keep up with the latest developments.

“It really embodies the spirit of lifelong learning that we talk about,” Moody said. “There’s no such thing as standing still.”

JAXUSA Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce economic development arm, counts information technology as one of its targeted industries for job growth.

Innovate Northeast Florida, a study being done by JAXUSA to develop strategies for job growth, paints a mixed picture of where the region stands regarding information technology firms.

The study says Northeast Florida averages 1.68 technology firms per 1,000 jobs, below the national average of 2.03. Technology firms include biomedical, computer equipment design and manufacturing, and software development.

The region has been closing that gap. From 2005 to 2010, the number of those firms grew by almost 27 percent, compared to a national average of about 22 percent.

The study will give specific recommendations later this year on crafting a strategy to gain more high-tech jobs and firms. The cities that are most competitive offer a good business environment and an attractive lifestyle, said Chris Engle, vice president and chief analyst for Avalanche Consulting, an Austin firm working on the study.

Perce said quality of life is important to technology professionals at all age levels, but he has found it’s most decisive for “the newer generation coming into the workforce.” Moyer said Northeast Florida’s climate is a major selling point for attracting technology professionals.

The Innovate Northeast Florida study said home prices and the cost of living are both lower than national benchmarks, adding to the region’s quality of life.

The study found the region’s suburban murder rate of 4.1 cases per 100,000 residents is higher than the national average of 3.2. But the robbery rate of 72 per 100,000 is lower than the national benchmark of 76.

The study focused on crime in the suburbs because that is where relocating workers most often move, the report said.

David Bauerlein
Florida Times-Union