Sunday, June 28, 2015

"The Right Mix of American History and High-Tech"

Yes, the title of this post is actually a quote. It is a very interesting one, though, in that it comes from a video game designer working on a new AAA production set in the city of Boston. When asked why the upcoming Fallout 4 would be set in Boston, Todd Howard replied that the city had "the right mix of American history and high-tech" (reported by Gamespot).i

It raises an interesting point. American history surrounds us, particularly for those of us zipping around Government Center and Beacon Hill. But just how "techy" is Boston?

Pretty techy.

Well, let's clarify. The most sweeping statistic comes from the March 13 "State of Technology" report by the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council: the tech industry supports 20% of the state's workforce (reported by the Boston Globe).ii If that number doesn't shock you outright, imagine it went away -- that would be a doubling of double-digit unemployment. This industry (how very broad that term is) is hallowed ground for Massachusetts.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the vast majority of these jobs are centered, more or less, in Boston and Cambridge. The largest frequencies show up in the Boston-Cambridge-Nashua and Boston-Cambridge-Newton corridors.iii

More importantly, though, tech is here to stay. A 2013 article from the Boston Business Journal reports that the tech sector in Boston is one of the highest growing in the country. In that year, tech employees in this area saw a salary jump of 7% to an average of $94,742iv - close to three times my salary. I'd take it.

It's not just the salaries, though, that will keep technology rooted in the Boston area. It's the education and the housing, too. The Boston Redevelopment Authority recently released a report investigating whether or not there is a "brain drain" in the city. Citing a 2013 Northeastern University study (among many other universities around the world), "Talent Magnets - Cities and Universities Building the Workforce for the Knowledge Economy," the BRA found that Boston retains just under fifty-percent of its college graduates.iv For a city with as many colleges and universities as Boston, fifty-percent sounds good enough, but it does not match other cities that contributed to the report. Case in point, Barcelona retains seventy-percent of its graduates. However, the BRA found that among American cities, Boston has the fourth-highest population of people ages 20-34 with college degreesv, despite a quick web search (Wiki, naturally) revealing that Boston is only the 24th largest U.S. city.

In summary, then, the Boston-Cambridge region is home to a proportionately  large concentration of college-educated 20-34 year-olds, many of them in a still-growing technology industry that (already!) represents about a fifth of the Massachusetts workforce.

Housing, a perennial issue here, is at play, too. Rising rental prices have effectively priced-out many Bostonians, but it is true that an income of $94,742 could make even the one-bedrooms offered by the Viridian for $2,900 in Fenway work; the astronomical $3,325 for a one-bedroom at the Van Ness in Fenway might require a second income. It's not that simple, I know, particularly with the taxes paid in the state, but the numbers do seem to make it work.

So, is Boston really as techy as Fallout 4's developer says? Yes, it is. Will it remain that way? Yes, it certainly seems it will. Through a combination of rising tech salaries, a field that represents 20% of the state's workforce centered largely in the area, a 50% retention rate of college grads, and a housing market geared towards the salaries commanded by the industry, Boston seems as if it will remain a tech city for years to come.

Of course, I should add that this is all speculative. Yes, it is based on numbers from reasonable and trustworthy sources, but it doesn't speak at all towards lived experience. Ask a recent grad about his or her life in the tech industry and perhaps it's full of all the foibles and shenanigans the rest of us face, too.

Til next time!

Makuch, Eddie. "Why Fallout 4 Is Set in Boston." GameSpot. CBS Interactive Inc, 17 June 2015. Web. 22 June 2015.
ii Adams, Dan. "Report: Mass. Tech Sector Flourishing, but Challenges Ahead." Boston Globe Media Partners, LLC, 13 Mar. 2015. Web. 22 June 2015.
iii "Boston Area Employment - January 2015 : New England Information Office : U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics." U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 6 Apr. 2015. Web. 22 June 2015.
iv Resende, Patricia. "Boston Tech Salaries Get 7 Percent Boost - Boston Business Journal." Boston Business Journal. American City Business Journals, 23 Jan. 2013. Web. 22 June 2015.
Lima, Alvaro, et al. Retaining Recent College Grads in Boston: Is There a Brain Drain? Rep. Boston: Boston Redevelopment Authority/Research Division, 2014. <>

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