The Northeast’s importance to the tech industry is often understated: While Big Tech had its big start on the West Coast, the Northeastern U.S. is now home to a large share of successful tech companies, in conjunction with a highly educated workforce and a history of innovation. From investment-driven innovation in the region’s larger cities to creative disruptors hailing from the smaller university towns, the Northeast’s tech scene comes in many shapes and sizes.
With that in mind, CommercialCafe set out to rank the metros in the Northeast with the best conditions for the tech industry (and the workers it relies on) to thrive. To that end, we selected all metro areas in the region with populations of more than 200,000 and awarded them points based on nine metrics, including density of tech establishments, percentage of jobs in tech, median earnings for tech workers, and a composite life-quality index. Keep reading to find out more about the ranking and each metro’s individual scores across indicators.
The Top 20 Northeast Metros for Tech Include Large Cities & Smaller University Centers
First, the Boston metro area won the race for the title of best tech metro in the Northeast with a total score of 66.6 points. Specifically, the metro had the highest tech employment density on the list with an average of 59 tech jobs out of every 1,000 jobs. Additionally, tech workers here had median earnings of $105,800 per year — the second-highest in the Northeast. In short, tech companies and professionals both have the conditions to thrive in this metro, thereby cementing its status as the region’s peak hub for the industry.
Of course, Boston’s strong showing should come as no surprise given its status as a centerpiece of tech and innovation in New England and the entire Northeast. Namely, the city is home to the best research university in the world in MIT and also has a strong biotechnology, robotics, and computer science scene. Moreover, the fact that other cutting-edge fields — like cleantech and AI — are putting down roots in the metro also bodes well for the future of the Boston tech industry.
Not to be outdone, the Trenton, N.J., metro was hot on Boston’s heels, coming in only three points behind the Massachusetts metro in the overall ranking. Despite having a metro population less than one-seventh the size of Boston’s, Trenton punches far above its weight when it comes to tech and is home to a burgeoning tech scene with plenty of talent for companies to choose from. What’s more, tech workers in Trenton are also the most well-paid in the Northeast with a median yearly income of $123,500, which was up 22.8% between 2017 and 2021.
Next, the Manchester-Nashua, N.H., metro area came in at #3 by boasting a tech employment density of 54.9 tech jobs out of every 1,000 — a ratio surpassed only by Boston. The metro also had the second-highest score in our composite life-quality index metric, thanks to an unemployment rate of only 1.4% as of May 2023, as well as a price parity close to the national average. Here, the metro’s tech growth has been two-fold: On the one hand, a wave of tech and medical tech companies have gravitated to Manchester’s downtown area, bringing in fresh capital. At the same time, smaller companies throughout other parts of the metro benefit from the talent output of higher education institutions, including the University of New Hampshire at Manchester and Southern New Hampshire University.
Notably, the New York metro landed just outside of the top three best Northeastern metros for tech with an impressive output of tech patents and a large number of organizations and companies behind these grants. In recent years, New York’s traditional identity in finance, insurance and other similar sectors has been supplemented by a rapid tech boom as Big Tech expanded. Accordingly, besides the patent metrics, New York also scored well in tech employment density, tech earnings and tech earnings growth. However, the metro stopped just shy of the podium due to a lower score in tech establishment growth and the composite life-quality metric.
Similarly, two upstate New York entries joined NYC as some of the Northeast’s most promising tech hubs: Albany, N.Y., reached #8 with the third-highest density of tech establishments (30.2 out of 1,000) and with good showings in tech employment density and tech employment growth. Meanwhile, Rochester, N.Y., ranked 16th with good showings in most metrics.
The final metro to crack the top five was Portland, Maine, the only Pine Tree State entry in the overall top 20. Scoring less than one point below New York, Portland had a lower density of tech workers than all of the entries above it in the standings, but nevertheless managed to score the second-highest tech employment growth in the entire study. More precisely, between 2017 and 2021, the number of tech workers in Portland grew by a considerable 56.3%. Additionally, median earnings in the industry also spiked by 32% in the same period to reach $90,000 in 2021.
Notably, 13 metros among the 20 most promising for tech in the Northeast had fewer than 1 million residents, including Trenton, Manchester, and Portland that reached the top five. Furthermore, six metros on the list had fewer than 500,000 residents. When taken in conjunction with the multi-million-resident metropolises that made the cut (such as Boston, NYC, and Philadelphia), the presence of these smaller cities — most of which are also research university centers — highlights the Northeast as an area of innovation sourced both from higher- and lower-density areas, as well as the importance of nurturing talent for the industry’s success.
Trenton Outshines Competition With Highest Tech Establishment Density in Northeast
Trenton used to be a manufacturing center for products like rubber and ceramics, but the New Jersey state capital has successfully reinvented itself as a regional tech hotspot. With an average of 59.4 businesses out of every 1,000 in the metro operating in tech, the industry plays a big role in the metro’s economy. That said, it’s worth noting that the number of tech companies in Trenton contracted by 5% between 2017 and 2021 — indicating a trend toward consolidation and a lower number of successful startups. Still, new programs, such as startup accelerator Trenton Makes Startups, aim to assist the area’s large share of companies operating in the industry.
Next, with a ratio of 37.2 tech businesses for every 1,000, Boston had the second-highest tech establishment ratio. Plus, the metro was the only one in the top five that didn’t witness a decrease in the number of tech companies between 2017 and 2021 as its number grew by 1.4% in that same timeframe. Here, cybersecurity company Devo; data analytics firm Starburst; and fintech developers Forward Financing and Circle are just a few of the startup unicorns hailing from the Boston metro. Granted, a plethora of other promising startups also highlight this as an area where innovation can thrive.
After Trenton and Boston, the next three metros — Albany, Manchester, and Philadelphia — were practically tied for tech establishment density. In particular, Albany, N.Y. (located in the so-called “Tech Valley” of eastern New York state) had a slightly higher ratio of tech businesses at 30.2. Clearly, the area benefits from the high concentration of tech-focused institutes with a lively biotech ecosystem.
Then, the Manchester-Nashua metro area was tied with Philadelphia in terms of tech establishment density. From research and development to advanced manufacturing, Manchester is one of the Northeast’s most promising pockets of innovation. Likewise, Philadelphia’s tech-rich business environment relies on a combination of fintech, big data, and AI.
Tech Establishments Increase 16% in York-Hanover Metro in 5 Years, Philadelphia Adds Most New Tech Startups in Northeast
The largest percentage increase in the number of tech firms in the Northeast occurred in the York-Hanover, Pa., metro area, where the number of firms in the industry increased by 16.2% between 2017 and 2021. In the same way, the number of tech establishments in Reading, Pa., grew by 12.1% in the identical period, making this duo of Pennsylvania metros the fastest-growing when it came to tech companies.
Yet, of the 20 metro areas in the Northeast included here, only eight saw growth in their numbers of local tech establishments between 2017 and 2021, including six that are in Pennsylvania. Otherwise, Burlington, Vt., recorded a growth of 6.6%, while Boston added 1.4% new tech companies in that period. The remaining 12 entries recorded single-digit decreases in their numbers of tech establishments, which can be attributed to closures during the pandemic or funding difficulties in the previous year.
However, Philadelphia welcomed the largest sheer number of new tech startups: The metro’s already-considerable roster of 4,384 establishments in 2017 grew to 4,557 five years later — a figure that includes local names, such as CDI, Carpenter Technology, and Comcast.
Boston, Manchester & Trenton Concentrate Highest Tech Job Densities
The three metros occupying the podium also boasted the highest shares of tech employment, starting with Boston, where every 59 out of 1,000 jobs were in tech. Here, the area’s robust life sciences sector (alongside other tech-adjacent fields) means that graduates from metro Boston’s 50+ institutions of higher education don’t have much trouble finding employment after graduation.
In this scenario, Manchester outperformed Trenton in the tech employment density metric with a ratio of 54.9 per 1,000, compared to Trenton’s 51.1. Further down the list, Albany had the fourth-best showing in the metric with a ratio of 47.9.
Not far behind, Hartford, Conn. — the home of Trinity College and offices belonging to tech companies such as Infosys, CGI Inc., and Covr. Financial Technologies — had a ratio 46.1 tech workers for every 1,000 employed adults.
What all of these metros have in common is a wide pool of talent for local tech companies, which explains the large share of jobs in the industry present.
However, the most impressive growth in number of tech jobs took place in Lancaster, Pa., where the number of employees in the industry spiked by 62% in just five years. With Apple, IBM, and Salesforce all operating offices within the metro — as well as a lively biotech and insurance tech startup scene — Lancaster is far more than just a quiet town in south central Pennsylvania.
Meanwhile, Portland, Maine, was the home of 7,000 tech workers in 2017 — a figure that had grown to almost 11,000 in 2021 for a growth of 56%.
Three other locations completed the top five list of Northeastern locations with the fastest-growing tech scenes: Norwich, Conn. (48% growth, 5,000 employees in 2021); Springfield, Mass. (44% growth, 8,500 employees in 2021); and Reading, Pa. (43% growth, 6,200 employees in 2021).
Trenton Techies Earn Top Dollar With $123,000 Median Earnings
When looking at the Northeast metros that were enticing tech workers with the highest pay, the clear winner was Trenton, where median annual earnings for a tech worker stood at more than $123,000 — approximately $20,000 ahead of Boston or New York. And, with top-tier employers (such as HCL Tech, ZAG Technical Services and Natsoft), tech workers here have plenty of options for competitive salaries if they fit the bill.
After Trenton’s impressive showing, Boston came in second place with median earnings in tech of nearly $106,000 per year. As one of the main tech hubs on the East Coast, Boston is home to a wide array of tech companies both large and small that are driving up paychecks, although higher costs of living counterbalance the comparatively higher wages here.
The next-highest tech salaries in the region hovered around the $100,000 mark. Specifically, median earnings in Bridgeport and New York cracked the $100,000 mark with the Connecticut entry edging slightly ahead. At the same time, median tech earnings in Manchester rested at $99,000. However, it should be noted that, while all of these entries had regional price parities above the national average, costs for consumer goods and services in Bridgeport and Manchester were 5.8% and 2.2% above the national average, respectively. Meanwhile, NYC’s regional price parity was 14.6% above the national average, resulting in different effective purchasing powers for tech workers with comparable pay.
But, when looking at the growth of median tech earnings between 2017 and 2021, Portland, Maine, experienced the greatest growth, jumping 32%.
Similarly, Burlington, Vt., median earnings increased 24% in the same period — ahead of Bridgeport and Hartford, Conn., at 23% and 22%, respectively. But, thanks to higher starting points in 2017, the median earning in 2021 in the two Connecticut entries was still higher than that in Burlington.
Lastly, Trenton (the Northeastern metro with the best tech salaries) also had the fourth-highest earnings growth between 2017 and 2021, indicating that demand for tech talent here is still rising — and incomes are following suit.
New York Reigns Supreme in Number of Patent Grants
Of course, New York was the undisputed leader in terms of tech patent output with some 43,820 patents granted between 2018 and 2022 alone. As a matter of fact, companies hailing from New York state — with NYC at the helm — were granted more than 385,000 tech patents in the last five decades, making the city’s domination of this metric an unsurprising (yet still impressive) reality.
Only Boston’s patent output could size up to New York’s as the metro’s companies were granted more than 15,500 patents in the last five years. This is yet another testament to the greater Boston area’s status as a hub for research and development. To be precise, the metro’s largest patent output occurred in 2021, when 3,679 patents were awarded, and which coincides with the life sciences and biotechnology boom that the market has been experiencing.
One fact worth noting is that the 43,000+ patents in New York were awarded to 1,580 different companies and organizations for an average of 27.7 patents per organization. Meanwhile, 1,460 tech companies and organizations were behind Boston’s 15,500 patent grants for a ratio of more than 10.6 per organization. In other words, New York’s patents were the work of a lower number of high-output companies, while innovation in Boston was more decentralized.
Other Northeast metros with high outputs of awarded patents in the last five years included Philadelphia with 3,800; Albany with close to 2,400; and Bridgeport with 1,600, all of which have high-ranking, research-intensive universities and startup scenes that are rife with innovation.
Burlington, Vt., Tops Life-Quality Index with Low Unemployment & High Educational Attainment
However, median earnings don't entirely define an area’s affordability and quality of life. In truth, tech companies looking to attract top talent can’t rely on high pay alone, but also need to be aware of the broader life-quality conditions of the area they choose for their offices. To that end, we also included a composite life-quality index that took into account each metro’s cost of living (regional price parity), as well as its employment and academic opportunities.
For this metric, Burlington, Vt., scored 12.6 out of a maximum of 15 points for life quality by logging the lowest unemployment rate in the Northeast at 1.3%. Moreover, 51% of Burlington’s residents aged 25 and older had a bachelor’s degree, making it the metro with the second-highest educational attainment in the region (after Boston). Accordingly, the state of Vermont has seen an influx of tech jobs with contributing industries — such as advanced manufacturing, life sciences, and cleantech — driving employment, as well as investment.
In the same vein, Manchester, N.H., and Portland, Maine, each scored more than 10 points in the life-quality index. Specifically, Manchester received great marks for its 1.4% unemployment rate, while Portland fared slightly better in educational attainment (45%, compared to Manchester’s 41.4%) and regional price parity.
Finally, in terms of sheer affordability, Pittsburgh was the metro in the top 20 with the best regional price parity. In fact, consumer goods and services here were 4.8% cheaper than the national average. Up next were Reading, Pa., which was 3.7% cheaper, and York, Pa., at 3.1% below the national average.