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Report: Milwaukee area's computer-savvy workforce is growing fast
[September 28, 2010]

Report: Milwaukee area's computer-savvy workforce is growing fast

Sep 28, 2010 (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- They're generally young, well-educated, savvy about computer systems -- and there are far more of them in southeast Wisconsin than most people realize.

While traditional counting methods used by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that just 2.9% of the jobs in southeast Wisconsin rely on information technology skills, a new report says the number of jobs in the region that require significant computing skills is much bigger than that, and growing fast.

Two-thirds of the region's workforce use some computing skills, and nearly 24% -- totaling more than 223,000 jobs as of 2008 -- require "significant skills," according to the report released by the non-profit Milwaukee Institute. Many of those jobs have not traditionally been identified as being related to information technology because they are classified by the fields they are in, such as manufacturing, health care and financial services.

The institute, a crusader for a shared, high-performance computing system in the region, hopes the findings will prompt awareness of the need for a regional technology strategy, said Jay Bayne, executive director.

"Having the world's best-kept secret isn't helping us grow and retain talent and create new enterprises," Bayne said.

The report, called "A Case for High-Performance Computing Investment in Southeast Wisconsin," was produced using data gathered by New York-based Gotham Research, which mined federal government statistics and surveyed regional leaders about the computing skills required for jobs in their industries.

Gotham Research found that the region has a higher percentage of technology-intensive jobs than the national averages in the most IT-intensive industries: manufacturing, health care and social services. It has a lower percentage than the national averages in the least IT-intensive, more labor-intensive industries: retail trade, construction and agriculture.

The good news, Bayne said, is that the IT workers are here, and their numbers have grown by 16% a year since 2005, faster than any other group.

"The bad news is they're buried in traditional vertical markets doing the more traditional business data processing kinds of activities," he said. "What we need is people who make smart, new products." The Milwaukee Institute was formed in 2007 with backing from some of the region's biggest technology-oriented firms, including Rockwell Automation, Johnson Controls, Metavante and Mason Wells, to encourage the development of a vibrant technology research and development community.

It is currently pushing for the region's technology businesses and academic institutions to band together to build a shared, high-performance computing system that would provide resources to the region's fast-growing group of computing workers.

"If the big brain people at Marquette, UWM, Medical College, Rockwell -- if they're working in a shared environment, out of that will percolate advances in technology, software and other areas that will improve our economy and potentially lead to start-ups," said Greg Meier, a Milwaukee-area entrepreneur who has been involved with Lansare, PhysioGenix and other start-ups, and a former partner at Michael Best & Friedrich.

Austin, Pittsburgh and Seattle are among the metropolitan areas that have developed or are developing powerful high-tech infrastructures, Bayne said. The best such initiative that Bayne has seen is in California, where the University of California has spearheaded a program called Calit2 that helps put together research teams from business and academia and has a staff of computing experts who support their work.

A high-powered, shared computing system in southeastern Wisconsin would make it easier for the region's "big brains" to perform computing-intensive tasks such as engineering a new valve virtually, building a device that can measure abnormal heartbeats remotely or creating characters for video games. Academic researchers, businesses and entrepreneurs could use such a system to make the kinds of discoveries that are a hallmark of the world's most competitive regions, Bayne said.

The rapid growth of "cloud" computing -- where shared resources and software are provided to personal computers and other devices on demand -- makes it easy to access more computing power. Bayne says the Milwaukee Institute is aiming to give the region's tech workers an even better option.

A shared regional infrastructure would encourage collaboration and provide researchers and start-ups with state-of-the-art equipment and programs that would be prohibitively expensive for them to own.

The three components of the infrastructure would be an energy efficient data center, such as the one that Source IT Energy LLC of Boston is proposing to build in the Menomonee Valley; a managed broadband service; and shared computational systems that included high-performance computers, storage systems and application software.

Such a shared infrastructure could be a key to how well the region can compete in the knowledge economy, said John Byrnes, chairman of the Milwaukee Institute and executive managing director at Mason Wells, the private equity firm that funded the institute's report.

"If we could get ahead of the wave, we could have a competitive advantage," Byrnes said.

WHAT THE STUDY SAYS A study of southeast Wisconsin jobs found that as of 2008: --23.5% required significant computing skills.

--43.6% required a low level of computing skills.

--32.9% required no computing skills.

Fields with high percentages of jobs requiring medium-level computer skills or better: --Educational services, 63.1% --Media and design, 53.4% --Health care, 35.5% --Financial services, 33.3% Source: Milwaukee Institute To see more of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to Copyright (c) 2010, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For more information about the content services offered by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services (MCT), visit, e-mail, or call 866-280-5210 (outside the United States, call +1 312-222-4544).

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