America's techiest cities: Silicon Valley No. 1, but who's No. 2?

Hint: It's not Boston or Seattle, according to Census Bureau stats

The highest concentration of IT professionals in the U.S. is -- you guessed it -- in Silicon Valley. But naming the No. 2 spot isn't as easy, and the answer might surprise you.

The runner-up isn't a well-known tech center like Boston or Seattle/Redmond; it's the Washington metro area.

"It kind of belies some of the perceptions of where the hiring is, where people work in this field," said John Challenger, president of Chicago-based outsourcing firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. "[Many typically] think that most people in IT work in Silicon Valley, and they might add in Washington state, Seattle and maybe Austin," he said.

Data for 2006 from the U.S. Census Bureau's annual American Community Survey (ACS), released just last month, reveal what could be called a metropolitan area's "TQ" (technology quotient) -- how "techie" a region's overall workforce is, based on the number of self-reported computer professionals. And some of the results turn stereotypes upside down. (See our interactive national map, or query the database for a specific metro area.)

Roughly 6% of the D.C. metro area workforce is made up of "computer specialists," compared with 8.3% in Silicon Valley. The third-highest concentration of IT workers is in Raleigh/Cary, N.C., at 5.3% of the workforce, followed closely by Boulder, Colo., and Huntsville, Ala., each at 5.2%. The remainder of the top 10 technology worker areas is rounded out, in order, by Bloomington/Normal, Ill.; Trenton-Ewing, N.J.; Austin-Round Rock, Texas; Manchester-Nashua, N.H.; and Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Wash.

Not everyone is surprised by the latest numbers.

"We always thought we belong in the same breath as the Silicon Valley folks ... because we always had a significant workforce in IT," said Richard Doud, president of the Arlington (Va.) Chamber of Commerce. "There's a lot of IT jobs in the area. There's a lot going on here."

That's due largely to the heavy concentration of government agencies and contractors. In addition, companies tend to congregate where there already are government facilities, educational facilities and other businesses. "Companies like to group," he said. "It has to do with the availability of workers."

Despite the high percentage of tech professionals in the area, hiring can be a challenge. "There are a lot of IT people around here," agreed Jay Atkinson, an Alexandria, Va.-based business consultant who has done IT hiring as a chief financial officer at three different companies. "There's a tremendous demand for them ... though they can be hard to find."

The Census Bureau data also shows that IT worker pay tends to reflect the percentage of techies in the workforce. The annual average salary for computer and information systems managers in Silicon Valley as of May 2006 was $139,460, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the D.C. metro area, that figure was $122,950. Around Raleigh, N.C., it was $102,880.

America's Techiest Metro Areas

Metro Area Total IT Workers % of Workforce
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif. 71,426 8.3%
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, D.C.-Va.-Md.-W.Va. 170,429 6.1%
Raleigh-Cary, N.C. 27,020 5.3%
Boulder, Colo. 7,925 5.2%
Huntsville, Ala. 9,390 5.2%
Bloomington-Normal, Ill. 4,216 5.0%
Trenton-Ewing, N.J. 8,519 4.8%
Austin-Round Rock, Texas 37,206 4.8%
Manchester-Nashua, N.H. 9,814 4.5%
Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Wash. 75,557 4.5%
Colorado Springs, Colo. 12,511 4.3%
San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, Calif. 89,989 4.3%
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2006 American Community Survey. For more metro areas, see the interactive map or query the database.
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