Nevada taking aggressive steps to increase its appeal to tech companies

Even with its recent push to attract technology-related companies, Nevada still ranks relatively low compared to the rest of the country in its tech workforce.

Nevada is No. 38 in the nation in tech employment, according to the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) Cyberstates 2017 report released earlier this month. Nevada also ranked No. 38 in 2016’s report.

The study showed that Nevada has 31,003 tech industry employees, working in 5,003 tech businesses. The tech sector makes up 2.5 percent of the overall workforce in the state.

“Nevada is struggling, there is little question about that,” said Josh Leavitt, vice president of the Society for Information Management. “Yet, you see effort from the top level down working on a solution to the problem.”

The state is implementing plans to increase the tech workforce, following up on incentives to attract tech businesses in recent years.

Senate Bill 200 is promoting more computer science curriculum in high schools and middle schools. Schools are developing academies. Career and Technical Education (CTE) is sponsoring industry focus groups. (CTE is a program through the Clark County School District that provides students with opportunities to explore the various career options after high school graduation, including tech-oriented training.) We have ITWorks and Transmosis (newly formed IT workforce training and placement programs). Leaders are becoming mentors, and businesses are accepting internships,” Leavitt said.

Bob Potts, research director with the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, said it has been pushing STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) initiatives to increase interest in technology in the state’s next generation of workers.

“It’s a huge part of the governor’s initiative,” he said. “It’s part of what’s being talked about at the Legislature during this session. When you talk about the governor’s focus on STEM activity, and a lot of activity that’s taking place there can springboard workforce development specifically to STEM occupations. There is a huge push and effort to push workforce development in tech industries.”

Those who are employed in the tech sector earn a higher rate of pay than the average Nevada worker.

The average tech employee makes $83,200 a year, according to the study, compared to Nevada’s average state wage of $46,100.

Despite that, Leavitt said that the wage should be higher. A push to make students aware of the higher pay the industry offers is underway, he said.

“It’s believed the average wage of a Nevada’s tech worker will go up, though it is interesting that it hasn’t already,” Leavitt said. “As for education, the push to make students and the public aware of technology careers and opportunities is gaining momentum. The state is pushing awareness, the Nevada State Board of Education is changing the curriculum and the Governor’s Office of Economic Development and others are developing IT career pathways.”

Large tech companies such as Faraday Future, Tesla, Panasonic and Switch are creating jobs in the state, something that could send Nevada’s ranking higher.

“Just (looking at) those companies, my expectation is that we are going to grow faster in the next few years than we did last year,” Potts said. “Panasonic alone is looking to add 2,000 folks this year. So if you look at 2,000 spots compared to the 804 jobs we added in 2016, that’s a pretty significant jump, with just one company.”

Leavitt agreed with Potts, stating that it’s crucial for the state to grow its tech workforce and to keep up with the plan, but the large companies ramping up employees could affect smaller establishments in the state.

“It must, in order to sustain the state’s mission to diversify Nevada’s economy,” Leavitt said. “One would suspect tech wages to skyrocket due to the increasing lack of obtainable technical talent. With the employment mandates for Faraday and Tesla, there is some concern that existing business will lose their technical talent and struggle to compete and grow.”

Internet technology and custom software services yielded the largest number of jobs in the state’s tech sector with 7,050; engineering services was second with 6,990; and research and development and testing labs was third with a workforce of 4,810.

The largest year-over-year change was seen in the internet services industry, where it grew 12 percent to 2,770 last year.

Leavitt said that tech-based jobs are becoming more influential in companies, and they’re being utilized to grow businesses.

“I’ve seen technical talent move from a line item on the payroll to an influencer of corporate strategy,” he said. “Information careers are becoming innovation careers — though some organizations are slow to recognize this. Innovation leaders are using technology to streamline their business process and optimize their value chain.”

After the success of Tesla since its move to Nevada, Potts said there has been a surge of other companies, tech included, looking to migrate to the state, which can also bolster the tech workforce.

“We call it the Tesla effect,” he said. “They say, ‘Wow, Tesla is doing it, we want on board.’ So you have the riding-on-the-coattail effect, and we’re seeing that on a number of fronts. We have existing companies expanding and we have other companies that are relocating here, just because there is all this excitement and activity associated with that.”

By Mick Akers

Nevada taking aggressive steps to increase its appeal to tech companies