When visiting emerging tech companies as a part of the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s Backed By ATL initiative, one entrepreneur noted that he preferred locating in Atlanta over Silicon Valley because new tech leadership talent, while difficult to find anywhere, was easier to find here than there. If this sentiment is true, it carries with it important policy implications to consider. I studied this talent production recently, and the data and metrics have much to say about our performance.
A major part of the explanation for the observation that talent is easier to find here may be that Atlanta strongly outperforms the Bay area in its relative production of top-tier technical leadership. Atlanta has a top-tier engineering graduate program at Georgia Tech that is both top-rated and extremely large compared to other top-tier graduate engineering programs. Scaled against the size of the relevant engineering employment base of the two areas, Atlanta notably outperforms the Bay Area in terms of the relative availability of newly produced talent.
Of course, measuring the relative production and availability of “new top-tier engineering leadership talent” is a far from straightforward process. As a proxy for the production of such talent, take enrollment in graduate engineering programs in a top 10-rated school. A much more detailed discussion of the data, metrics, and cautions in using the results can be found here.
The Bay Area has two top 10 engineering programs: Stanford and Berkeley, number two and three, respectively, in U.S. News & World Report’s Best Grad Schools 2018 list of engineering programs. Georgia Tech is number seven. Georgia Tech reports 8,850 graduate engineering students, far more than the combined Berkeley and Stanford total of 5,751. By itself, Tech has about one and a half times the graduate engineering enrollment as Stanford and Berkeley combined. In terms of sheer top-level new engineering leadership production, we could stop right here. Georgia Tech is huge compared to the top Bay Area schools.
Looking at this from the perspective of an employer competing for that talent, we need to incorporate a measure of the size of the pool competing for that talent. If we scale that pool of engineering grad students against a Bureau of Labor Statistics measure of engineering employment (again, see the URL cited above), we find that Atlanta is producing new top-tier talent at a rate 3.8 times that of the Bay Area compared to their employment bases. By this metric, it is not surprising that, in a relative sense, it seems easier to get new, highly trained engineering talent here than in Silicon Valley.
We can do the same exercise for the Boston area, where MIT is number one in the rankings. We can include Harvard, too, although they are ranked 23rd. Those schools combined report 3,602 graduate enrollees. Scaled against their employment base, Atlanta has more than twice the relative engineering leadership talent production as Boston.
One moral of this story is that, as the entrepreneur observed, while top-flight new engineering talent is difficult to get anywhere, it becomes apparent why it is relatively easier in Atlanta than in either the Bay Area or Boston. These findings become critical information to companies and site selectors who are deciding among many different areas with vastly differing qualities.
Another moral of the story is that efforts such as the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s ChooseATL campaign may matter a lot in capturing this talent. ChooseATL seeks to attract and retain next-generation talent – simply producing a substantially larger number of top-flight talent is not sufficient if they do not choose to stay. The three geographies discussed here all have both excellent educational facilities and large tech sectors, but human capital is mobile and being an attractive location for talent is critical to attracting and retaining an appropriate workforce, while also being increasingly important to the younger generation. Atlanta’s cultural landscape is incredibly rich with music, film and the arts all finding a strong community here – another important quality of our metro that deserves to be maintained.
A third moral worth mentioning is that an increased emphasis on STEAM courses early on in Georgia’s education process would benefit both the students taking those courses and the state’s employers. Getting into top-tier graduate programs is a very competitive process, and the more students the state is producing who are on track to completion, the better. Policy makers and educators must continue supporting the growth of STEAM fields and early on, in order to capture this natural edge we have over other national producers of engineering talent.
About Tom Cunningham
Thomas J. Cunningham is senior vice president and chief economist for the Metro Atlanta Chamber. Tom joined MAC in July 2015 following a 30-year career at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. He is a specialist in open economy macroeconomic policy and regional analysis. At MAC, he manages an internal team that supports the research and advocacy roles of the economic development and public policy departments.