RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — So, how bad is the state of the high-tech?

Nearly 10 percent of workers in the so-called new economy, which supposedly represented the economic future of the United States, has lost his or her job.

That’s how bad.

A new report out today from the American Electronics Association shows that 560,000 high-tech workers lost their jobs between January 2001 and December 2002.

Payrolls dropped to 5.1 million jobs in December from 5.7 million.

Hardest hit has been the manufacturing sector, which shaved 20 percent of its workforce down to 1,624,800 jobs.

The communications services sector cut 9.2 percent of its workforce, to 1,328,500, which reflects the telecom implosion.

And let’s remember what those jobs represent. More than $50,000 a year in income. Many “clean” jobs in plants and industries that are environmentally friendly. Jobs that employ college graduates of all levels — engineers, scientists, researchers.

And many of those jobs were from the “dot com” and high-tech entrepreneurial startups, which helped ignite the economic explosion that was the 1990s.

NC’s high-tech drain

Want more bad news?

Joan Myers, president of the North Carolina Electronics and Information Technology Association, told members of the NC General Assembly on Tuesday that North Carolina has lost 45 percent of its high-tech companies over the past two years. She called for more tax credits and government assistance.

“We are losing jobs, we are losing companies, and we are losing talent,” Myers said, as quoted by The News & Observer.

William Archey, president and CEO of the AeA, issued a similar warning to Congress.

“The data strongly suggest that there is a need for economic stimulus including the President’s package and specific proposals backed by the high-tech industry, such as the Homeland Investment Act, and others,” Archey said.

The Homeland Investment Act encourages US industry to reinvest money made in foreign markets back in the US. A version of the bill has been introduced in both the House and Senate. Estimates are that the bill could encourage between $135 billion and $200 billion a year being funneled back to the US economy.

Software shows some growth

The AeA used US Bureau of Labor Statistics to document its findings. And they make for depressing reading.

Total manufacturing jobs dropped to 1,624,800 — a decline of 20 percent.

Communications services jobs fell to 1,328,500 – a decline of 9.2 percent.

Total high-tech services jobs fell to 3,520,200 — a drop of 3.9 percent

The only sector to report an increase was in software services. Some 5,300 jobs were added, a meager increase of 0.5 percent. “This is consistent with the fact that many of the innovations in the high-tech industry are driven by software,” Archey said.

Let’s hope this report and others will drive home to governments at all levels that the high-tech industry can’t be taken for granted any longer.

The federal, state and local governments face a money crisis across many fronts due in large part to the economic slowdown. But do the math — 500,000 jobs @ $50,000 a year. That’s $25 billion a year in wealth and taxes the economy isn’t generating.


Rick Smith is managing editor of Local Tech Wire.