There's no denying that Silicon Beach has come a long way in just a few years. L.A. is home to an ever-growing list of important tech companies, like Snapchat, Maker Studios, Nasty Gal, Tinder, and on and on. And it's also chock-full of startups that no one has ever heard of, some of which could be huge.
But wherever there's growth, there's a temptation to over-hype it. Such is the case with last week's report from the L.A. Economic Development Corporation, which boasted that L.A. has the biggest tech scene in the country.
The report was widely covered, generating headlines like “L.A. Leads in High-Tech Jobs,” and “L.A. County Has Most High Tech Jobs in Country.” That's certainly an attention-grabbing claim. Most people probably assumed that Silicon Valley has more high tech jobs than anywhere in the country.
And, as it turns out, most people are right. LAEDC's claim that L.A. has more tech workers “than any other metro region in the nation” simply does not withstand scrutiny. The analysis depends on an expansive definition of tech jobs — and a very narrow definition of Silicon Valley.
Among the industries included in the definition of “tech” are such bastions of innovation as oil refining, elevator manufacturing, management consulting, and wholesale distribution of cash registers, adding machines, and microfilm readers.
Meanwhile, the study defines Silicon Valley exclusively as Santa Clara County. So Facebook and Twitter don't count. (They're in San Mateo and San Francisco counties, respectively.) And that's even while L.A. is defined as L.A. County, which has a population five times greater than Santa Clara County.
Even using those definitions, L.A. County just barely comes out ahead. According to LAEDC's analysis, L.A. has 368,580 tech jobs compared to 313,260 in Santa Clara County. (Boston comes in second, with 361,380.)
But what would happen if one were to re-run the analysis, using more reasonable definitions of Silicon Valley and tech? To do that, we can turn to this Bureau of Labor Statistics report on the state of Silicon Valley in 2009. That report defines Silicon Valley as six counties: San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, Alameda and Contra Costa.
It also limits the scope of tech jobs to a few computer-related industries (software engineering, semiconductors, etc.) One might argue that even this definition is too broad, because it includes things like aerospace and architecture, which, though they are certainly technical fields, aren't exactly what comes to mind when you think of the tech industry. But let's leave them in, because the point here is to get an unbiased definition of tech.
So, re-running the analysis using the same BLS statistics, here's what we get:
Silicon Valley: 473,495 jobs
L.A.: 212,066 jobs
Not the most shocking result.
LAEDC's claim that L.A. has more tech jobs “than any other metro area” rests heavily on the fact that the census considers San Jose and San Francisco to be in different metro areas. But even just looking at Santa Clara County — which is most of San Jose's metro area — L.A. still lags behind when applying the narrower definition of tech (249,917 jobs to 212,066).
There's no particularly good reason, however, to consider San Francisco and Santa Clara County separately. L.A. County is bigger than all six Silicon Valley counties combined, both in terms of area and population.
On a per capita basis, L.A. lags even farther behind than it does in absolute numbers, with just 2.1 tech jobs per 100 people, compared to 7.4 jobs per 100 people in Silicon Valley.
So, you read it here first: Silicon Valley is still the center of the tech industry.
Give the L.A. boosters credit for trying to make us think otherwise, though. If nothing else, L.A. will always be the global capital of self-promotion.