The Texas Workforce Commission has published some humbling numbers on high-tech employment in central Texas. From early 2000 to early 2003, the number of high-tech jobs in the Austin region fell by 23 percent, to 61,409. Average salaries for the employed dropped 20 percent over the three years, to $1,766 per week. While there is a recovery under way, semiconductor workers have yet to see any benefit in their paychecks.
Is innovation going to be enough to turn things around?
Actually, the signs are good on the innovation front. There are startups in these Silicon Hills who seem to be well-positioned. Alereon Inc., for one, is working on ultra-wideband chip sets that could sort out the wiring mess in homes and offices. Alereon CEO Eric Broockman claims that by 2006 or 2007, Intel will support a wireless form of USB 2.0 that will run over ultra-wideband technology to connect computer peripherals. And with ultrawideband in the home, connecting a TV to recording devices will no longer be such a chore.
It is not only the small companies that are innovating. Motorola Inc. is making remarkable progress with magnetic RAM, a memory technology that has truly fantastic potential. If yields improve on the traditional learning curve, there is no telling how far MRAM could go.
And lest you think the answer to the job situation is to prevent foreign engineers and scientists from coming to work in the United States, please consider that it was a Russian physicist, the late Leonid Savtchenko, who came up with a breakthrough for Motorola's MRAM program, which, by the way, is headed by a passionately committed engineer, Saied Tehrani, who was born in Iran.
Some of the high-tech jobs lost in the Austin area have moved to China and India and won't come back. But there is some consolation. If the market for computers and telecom gear designed in the U.S. is to grow, the developing countries must catch up with Europe, Japan and North America. And they are. The International Monetary Fund expects the gross domestic product to grow by 7 percent next year in China, by 6 percent in India and by 4 percent in Eastern Europe. That's encouraging.
The high-tech engine is not broke, and job growth will return. We just need to be persistent and realistic.
David Lammers covers system-on-chip pro-cess equipment. Contact him at email@example.com.