Friday, June 27, 2008

Another Tech report for the bookshelf?

Nashville Technology Council President Jeff Costantine told VNC yesterday he isn't exactly alarmed about Nashville's rankings in recent reports of city and state Tech employment and Tech wages. In fact, he said he and many others really aren't sure what to make of it all. As reported earlier, Nashville ranked 49th in the American Electronics Association's ranking of 60 U.S. cities' creation of new Tech-sector jobs (including telecom, IT, computer hardware and other fields). Our story also reported that a recent Milken Institute report showed Nashville losing ground. Costantine explained, "First, I am glad that we are on the [AeA 60-city] list. I don’t think that we are in a tenuous situation – we have a very good technology footprint, but we need to do a better job of promoting what we have." (His comments echoed his bullish response to an earlier report containing statewide, as opposed to city-level data.) Costantine indicated he feels it may be inappropriate, if not unfair, to compare Nashville with Austin, which has more computer manufacturing and chip production; or, to compare Music City with Charlotte, which Costantine said has a greater share of Internet-oriented businesses. He also said he's not sure what significance, if any, to assign to the AeA data, partly because more detailed information about Tech in Middle Tennessee simply does not seem to exist. In addition, Costantine indicated it is difficult, if not impossible to determine what mix of tech industries would be better for Nashville, assuming that mix could even be managed. Although it wouldn't be definitive, Costantine explained that he's considering creating a Tech index that would track employment within a small set of identifiable Tech employers. Currently, NTC makes a similar measurement once a year, by totalling IT positions advertised in popular venues by some local employers. Costantine also said he hopes the Nashville Area Chamber's forthcoming Entrepreneur Project (EP) report will help shed light on how to grow the local Tech sector. He said he suspects that recruiting Tech businesses to Nashville and encouraging local startups and other homegrown ventures will be among the solutions. Chamber officials told us this week that the EP report will probably be out in July. Inadequate Tech data for Middle Tennessee is a long-standing issue. We remember a national association's report a few years ago on software R&D. The report (based on federal data) said Nashville had zero workers in software research, despite the fact that there have long been researchers at Vanderbilt University and elsewhere who would contest that. (I would argue that the VU School of Engineering's Institute for Software Integrated Systems qualifies.) The erroneous data was reported by someone here in Middle Tennessee whom the association would not identify, when asked by a reporter. In my book, all this is further evidence of the need for a thorough statewide Tech census. Individual cities seem to find such a project daunting, but it could be done at the state level. We wouldn't know the value of it, until it was done.

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