The tech sector is currently experiencing a decentralization by expanding beyond traditional hubs to include new metropolitan areas across the U.S. with a particular focus on the South. This trend is evident in the recent relocations of major tech companies — like Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Oracle, Tesla, Google and Apple — to tech powerhouses along the Sun Belt, such as Houston; Austin, Texas; Raleigh, N.C.; and the Durham-Chapel Hill, N.C., metro areas.
So, to better gauge the resources that Southern metros can draw upon to attract and retain both tech talent, as well as businesses, we conducted a comprehensive study that looked at nine different metrics. Specifically, we ranked performances across indicators such as the concentration of tech establishments at the metro level, the percentage of tech jobs, the median income of tech workers and a composite life-quality index. Keep reading to discover more about the overall score of each metro, as well as the different performances of entries across each indicator.
Top 20 Southern Tech Hubs Include Established Leaders & Emerging Contenders
Washington, D.C. emerged as the frontrunner by winning the title of the best metro for tech in the South. More precisely, it earned maximum points for its concentration of tech businesses and tech jobs, surpassing other entries on our list by a significant margin. Here, more than half of the adult population held a bachelor’s degree or higher, which fosters a culture of innovation and growth. This was further supported by the impressive number of tech patents submitted between 2018 and 2022 with contributions from more than 800 organizations.
Ranking second in our study, Austin, Texas, boasts a vibrant ecosystem of major tech companies, startups and high-paying jobs. From 2017 to 2021, Austin’s tech sector grew 17%, giving it the second-highest density of tech companies among the top 20 entries. Additionally, it ranked in the top five for both the highest percentage increase in tech jobs and the highest ratio of tech employment opportunities. Overall, Austin performed well in eight out of nine metrics, outperforming other Texas metro areas in all metrics except tech patents. It also ranked in the top five for both the highest percentage increase in tech jobs and the highest ratio of tech employment opportunities.
Taking the third spot overall, Huntsville, Ala., excelled in two key areas: First, it was the top-scoring metro in terms of quality of life, offering tech workers a strong job market and affordable living costs. Additionally, Huntsville saw the second-highest increase in tech employment in recent years with 77 out of every 1,000 jobs now in the tech sector. Known as “Rocket City” for its significant role in the U.S. space program since the 1950s, Huntsville maintains an innovative spirit that drives its economy. It’s also home to Cummings Research Park — the second-largest research park in the U.S. and the fourth-largest globally.
Closely trailing behind Huntsville, the Raleigh, N.C., metro landed just outside of the top three best Southern metros overall. Renowned for its wealth of research institutions — including its prestigious universities and the Research Triangle Park — it’s no surprise to find Raleigh ranked so prominently. Although the metro didn’t secure the top spot in any specific metric, it performed admirably as the runner-up in terms of tech job density, boasting 77 tech jobs per 1,000 occupations. Moreover, the metro achieved an impressive top-five ranking for its quality of living, which was underscored by its abundant educational opportunities.
Next, Baltimore made its way into the top five as one of three mid-Atlantic region entries in the top 20. Similar to Raleigh, Baltimore secured its position by consistently performing well across most metrics, rather than excelling in one or two areas. And, with a tech company density of 45 per 1,000 companies, Baltimore’s tech industry cannot be overlooked, especially considering that it’s only two fewer (per 1,000) than Austin’s. Plus, Baltimore also recorded the third-highest tech earnings with median incomes for tech workers in the metro area averaging roughly $104,000. This surpassed Austin’s tech median income, but fell short of neighboring Washington, D.C.
However, it wasn’t just the top-ranked entries that impressed with their outstanding performance: Salisbury, Md., (ninth overall) experienced the highest growth in tech firm density between 2017 and 2021 with an impressive growth rate of 57%. What’s more, Salisbury also had the highest tech wages on the list with median annual earnings for tech professionals in the Maryland metro reaching approximately $112,000.
Shifting focus to other notable results, Houston, Texas, (11th) proved to be a leader in tech innovation in the South. In fact, more than 9,000 tech patents were filed in Houston, surpassing all other metro areas. Likewise, Savannah, Ga., (13th) witnessed a remarkable 217% increase in tech employment, highlighting its rapid growth in the tech sector. Additionally, Johnson City, Tenn., (17th) experienced the highest surge in median tech earnings with salaries increasing by 200% during a five-year period, rising from $30,000 to $90,000.
D.C. Dominates South With Highest Tech Establishment Density, Outranking Austin
Washington, D.C. is home to around 13,000 tech companies, giving it a ratio of 82 tech companies per 1,000 firms (double that of any other top-20 metro area). Notably, the region’s success in the tech industry is driven by its focus on key sectors that facilitate collaboration between tech companies and the public sector, thanks to the close proximity to government agencies. For instance, Booz Allen Hamilton — a well-known technology consulting firm — actively partners with government agencies, thereby promoting innovation and creating a favorable business environment.
Furthermore, Austin’s tech industry is booming as major players like Google, Apple, and Amazon solidify their presence and cement Austin’s position as a key player in the industry. Accordingly, with a density of 47.6 tech companies per 1,000 enterprises, Austin boasted the second-highest concentration of tech firms in the U.S.
Just behind Austin, Durham-Chapel Hill, N.C., was the third-highest in tech company density. With a thriving business climate and a range of tax breaks and incentives, it’s a preferred destination for tech businesses. Here, programs like the Research Triangle Park Job Development Investment Grant and the One North Carolina Fund also provide financial assistance and support, making it an attractive choice for establishing or expanding tech operations.
Likewise, Baltimore is actively working to become a major tech hub with a particular focus on AI and biotech. And, with 45 tech businesses per 1,000 firms, the city has established a solid foundation for the tech industry. Namely, a recent bid by the Greater Baltimore Committee for federal tech hub status aims to provide tech-focused entities in the region with access to $10 billion in funding, further emphasizing artificial intelligence and biotechnology.
Similarly, Huntsville, Ala.’s tech sector continues to gain recognition, especially in the Southern region. With an impressive rank of #5 in tech establishment density and boasting 43.5 tech businesses per 1,000 firms, Huntsville is home to a vibrant and diverse range of tech companies. In particular, notable names like Siemens Digital Industries Software and Dynetics contribute to the city’s dynamic tech ecosystem.
Salisbury, Md., Sets Bar High With 57.5% Increase to its Tech Sector
Salisbury, Md., stood out among the top 20 metros on our list with the highest percentage growth rate of tech companies: From 2017 to 2021, the number of tech companies in Salisbury increased by an impressive 58%. In this case, the surge in tech employment reflects a broader trend observed in smaller metros and college towns, where tech jobs have become more concentrated.
Ranking second on the list was the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers metro in Arkansas and Missouri with a significant 18% growth rate in tech establishments. This region is known for its thriving ecosystem of agri-tech and health care tech startups. Notable examples include Indigo Agriculture — a company that specializes in improving crop yields without GMOs — and Health Catalyst, which provides valuable data analytics services to hospitals and health care organizations. Additionally, Walmart Labs (the esteemed research and development arm of Walmart) is also located in the area.
At the same time, Austin, Texas, has positioned itself as the third-fastest-growing tech metro on the list, experiencing significant growth in its tech industry. Of course, major Silicon Valley players — including Tesla and Oracle — have been attracted to Austin, thereby contributing to a 17% increase in the number of tech companies. This growth also stands in contrast to the declining share of new tech firm startups seen in many other established tech hubs nationwide.
Following closely behind was the Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) area in Texas, which has seen a 13% increase in tech firms to solidify its rising star status. Not far behind, the Tampa-St. Petersburg metro in Florida experienced a 12% increase in tech companies with support from organizations like Tampa Bay Wave and the Synapse Summit, which incubate new tech businesses.
Familiar Metros Lead Tech Job Market, Tech Employment Jumps 217% in Savannah, Ga.
With nearly 300,000 jobs in the tech industry, Washington, D.C. claimed the highest density of tech jobs among the entries on our list, and this impressive figure translated to a ratio of 89 tech jobs per 1,000 occupations. In this case, the capital’s success is due to its diverse and robust tech ecosystem, including government agencies, startups, research institutions, cybersecurity experts and consulting firms. These entities often collaborate on large-scale, long-term projects, further cementing Washington, D.C.’s reputation as a superstar tech hub.
Highlighting their impressive overall performances, the top five metropolitan statistical areas also ranked among the top five for tech employment opportunities. However, the order slightly changed when considering this specific metric. For example, Raleigh, N.C., secured the second position with a tech job density of 77 out of every 1,000 occupations, surpassing Austin’s 73.5. Following closely in third place was Huntsville, Ala., with a nearly identical ratio of tech job density as Raleigh’s. Lastly, Baltimore completed the top five. Tech professionals here can expect approximately 63 out of every 1,000 job opportunities to be in the tech field.
However, the tech job sector in Savannah, Ga., experienced the highest increase of 217% in five years. This impressive growth was supported by initiatives such as the Savannah Economic Development Authority, which provides a cash grant of up to $20,000 for every five high-tech jobs created. Plus, Savannah is home to IBM, OSIsoft and Covenant Technology Group, as well as a startup scene that traditionally has had a specific focus on aeronautics technology.
Securing second place was Huntsville, Ala., which experienced a 53% growth in tech job opportunities from 2017 to 2021. Huntsville’s success as a tech hub can be attributed to collaborative efforts among government, businesses and universities, led by Mayor Thomas M. Battle Jr. Notably, the Huntsville 2025 initiative aims to establish the city as one of the top 10 tech hubs in the U.S.
Three other places also made it to the top five of Southern metros with the fastest-growing tech scenes: Austin, Texas, which saw a 40% growth with 93,000 employees in 2021; Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers in Arkansas and Missouri, which experienced a 39% growth with 12,300 employees in 2021; and Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater in Florida, which had a 33% growth with 60,000 employees in 2021.
Mid-Atlantic Metros Excel With Highest Tech Earnings in South
The Mid-Atlantic region led in terms of median tech salaries with three standout metros. At the top was Salisbury, Md., offering a median salary of approximately $121,000 per year. This was also complemented by the area’s low cost of living, further enhancing employees’ purchasing power.
Following closely behind were Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, ranking second and third, respectively, with average salaries of around $110,000 and $104,000. Notably, there’s a $6,000 difference between these two metros.
In the same way, Huntsville, Ala., and Austin, Texas, also offered competitive salaries to tech professionals. Huntsville provided a median salary of $102,500, while Austin maintained its position among the top metros with median earnings of $101,722. Additionally, Palm Bay, Fla., and Raleigh, N.C., were also among the metro areas surpassing the $100,000 mark in terms of median tech salaries.
Yet, when examining the increase in median tech salaries from 2017 to 2021, the college town of Johnson City in Tennessee experienced the highest growth: It skyrocketed by an impressive 200%, going from around $30,000 to $90,000. Notably, Johnson City complemented this earnings growth with the best regional price parity among the top 20 entries.
Not to be outdone, Salisbury, Md., and Savannah, Ga., also saw significant increases in median tech earnings, ranking second and third with 81% and 71% growth, respectively. Specifically, median tech earnings in Salisbury increased from $62,000 to more than $112,000, while salaries in Savannah increased from $49,000 to nearly $85,000 during the five-year period.
Austin, Texas, ranked fourth with a 30% increase in median tech income — although it’s worth noting that Austin tech professionals were already earning approximately $80,000 per year in 2017. Finally, Fayetteville, Ark., experienced a 26% rise in median tech salary, which resulted in a $15,000 increase during the five-year period. Apart from Austin, the top five areas with the highest tech income growth also had some of the lowest costs for consumer goods and services, consequently providing tech workers with effective purchasing power.
Houston Leads Innovation Race with 9,000+ Tech Patents
During the analyzed period, the five metros with the highest numbers of tech patents granted also had the most organizations contributing to these patents. For this metric, Houston emerged as the leader with more than 9,000 patents granted. But, compared to the other top four metropolitan areas, Houston had the lowest number of contributing organizations (473), indicating that innovation in Houston relies more on large, institutional actors or corporations with fewer small businesses involved.
In contrast, Washington, D.C. had a more decentralized innovation process with nearly double the number of contributing organizations (864) — the highest number recorded. These organizations include government agencies and research institutions, such as the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense and the National Science Foundation. Additionally, D.C. saw 5,844 tech patents issued.
Meanwhile, two other Texas metropolitan areas — Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) and Austin — took second and third places, respectively, in both tech patent categories. The DFW metro area had 6,372 tech patents granted and nearly 700 contributing organizations, while Austin had 6,322 tech patents granted and 533 contributing organizations. Innovation also thrived in Atlanta, where the metro area closely followed with more than 6,000 tech patents granted between 2018 and 2022, as well as nearly 500 contributing organizations.
Huntsville, Ala., Leads Southern Region in Quality of Life
Tech companies can also benefit from the advantages of the Southern region by considering factors beyond salaries to include the overall quality of life. Namely, the region’s relative affordability; exciting entertainment and food scene; and top-notch educational institutions create an environment that attracts young talent. Thus, as part of our study, we developed a comprehensive life-quality index that considers the cost of living (regional price parity), employment opportunities and education attainment levels in order to highlight the best metros to live in for tech workers across the South.
For this metric, Huntsville, Ala., was the best tech metro in the South with an impressive score of 12.4 out of 15 points. This was due to its low unemployment rate of 1.8% (the lowest in the region), as well as its second-best regional price parity, which means that tech professionals in Huntsville can enjoy a more affordable cost of living.
Moving on to other top performers in the quality-of-life index were Durham-Chapel Hill, N.C.; Charlottesville, Va.; and Raleigh, N.C., each of which earned scores of more than 10 points. These metros also stood out in terms of educational attainment, with more than half of their residents holding a bachelor’s degree or higher. This then put them in the same league as only Washington, D.C. and Austin, Texas, as metropolitan areas with such high educational achievements.
Following in the footsteps of Huntsville, Fayetteville, Ark., also excelled in terms of affordability and a strong job market. As a result, it secured the third spot in regional price parity to ensure a more favorable cost of living and also registered the second-lowest unemployment rate at 1.9%.