RALEIGH, N.C. – Add Burlington, N.C., to the nation’s leaders as one of North America’s “high-tech centers.”

That’s the verdict of “North America’s High-Tech Economy: The Geography of Knowledge-Based Industries,” a new study from the California-based Milken Institute think tank.

Burlington is just one of “many lesser-known regions” highlighted by the Milken study, which was released in conjunction with the 2009 International Association of Science Parks Conference. The event is taking place this week in Raleigh. The Milken report is based on data from 2007 and is a follow-up to a 2003 study.

The home of international lab testing firm Laboratory Corporation (LabCorp), Burlington scored a perfect 100 on the Milken study scoreboard in the “Medical and Diagnostics Labs” center rankings.

The report, however, offered no “top 10” ranking for the Research Triangle Park area, which recently was listed as among biotech centers in another Milken study. Instead, the tech center study broke Raleigh-Cary and Durham into separate metropolitan areas.

In fact, each metro fell in the rankings from 2003. Durham dropped to 26th from 24th among the top 50 metros, and Raleigh-Cary dipped to 38th from 34th.

Atlanta-Marietta, meanwhile, came in 12th thanks in part to its No. 1 ranking in the telecommunications segment of the report.

Charlotte ranked fourth in data processing, hosting and related services followed by Atlanta.

Milken considered metro-area tech employment, the share of that employment nationally, wages and other factors in its “tech pole” rankings. The medical and diagnostics labs category includes analytic and diagnostic services, X-rays and other scans and radiological tests.

Noting that LabCorp helps give Burlington an employment concentration “14 times higher than the national average,” the study’s authors also noted: “The metro area has effectively capitalized on its geographic proximity to the Research Triangle, and has experienced the highest growth with respect to employment and wages.”

Durham ranked seventh on the Milken tech pole for life sciences. The study noted Durham “experienced the fastest job growth in the sector since 2003 among the top ten, and the third fastest in North America.”

Most jobs in the Research Triangle Park are in Durham County.

Raleigh-Cary ranked seventh as a center for software in the tech pole index.

The overall top 10 and 2003 ranking in parenthesis:

1. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif. (1)
2. Seattle (3)
3. Cambridge-Newton-Framingham, Mass. (2)
4. Washington, D.C. (5)
5. Los Angeles (4)
6. Dallas-Plano-Irving, Texas (6)
7. San Diego, Calif. (7)
8. Anaheim, Calif. (11)
9. New York (9)
10. San Francisco (8)