Spokane Journal of Business

Tech industry jumps ahead a decade, observers say

Cybersecurity, access to be focus in 2021

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2020 marked a rapid acceleration in the technology industry, in some cases truncating what would have been a decade of adaptation into a year, and cybersecurity is one of the sectors of the industry most poised for growth in 2021, some tech industry observers here say.

David Bowman, dean of the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math department at Eastern Washington University, says, “2020 has pointed the way and 2021 is going to have to follow.”

Technology this year boomed in terms of delivering services and automating manufacturing processes, says Bowman. Zoom went from a verb to a noun, he says, telemedicine offerings exploded, and manufacturing processes went remote. 

“It was pretty unprecedented for us, coping with all the changes in terms of tech,” says Bowman.

Heather Stratford, CEO and founder of Spokane-based Stronger International Inc., says, “These are all trends that the technology industry saw coming. They all knew we are going to have more remote working. We already are poised to have more cybersecurity risks as everybody shifts to the cloud.”

One big push moving forward will be education and skills development within companies, a necessary adaptation companies will need to make as more workers continue to work remotely, Stratford says. In-migration from tech hubs like Seattle and San Francisco is expected to increase, she adds, bringing more technologically skilled workers to the area.

Stratford contends the previous once-a-year compliance sessions are no longer enough to protect companies.

Bowman cautions, however, the expansion of technology in everyday lives also highlighted inequities in accessibility.

“2020 has showed us that in some ways, the promised future of having online education everywhere is not going to happen,” he says. “So much of education is about experience and interaction with people, and that you just can’t do online with current technology.”

Students lacking high-speed internet access or who didn’t have the hardware available to them to participate successfully in online learning are struggling, he says. 

“That’s a problem that’s always been there; 2020 just punched us in the face with it,” he says, adding that further investment in rural infrastructure will be needed in the future.

It’s still too early to determine how incoming university students and interest in tech-related programs have been impacted, says Bowman, as several students have opted not to return to school until in-person classes have resumed. There likely will be a ripple effect, particularly on high school students, that educators will be contending with for years, he estimates. 

Mike McBride, business and industry analyst with the Spokane Workforce Council, says technology jobs were relatively sheltered from the brunt of the pandemic.

Currently, only about 1% of, or about 81 out of 8,100, total unemployment claims in Spokane County are technology jobs, he says.

“Having computer skills of any level is almost necessary,” he says, adding, “Virtually every industry is growing computer jobs … and those jobs are a lot more protected.”

Looking forward, tech-related jobs in Spokane County are expected to grow at nearly double the rate of the Spokane economy overall, with 1.1% annual new job growth in tech jobs, compared with 0.7% job growth overall, says McBride.

That equates to roughly 544 new jobs in computer and technology occupations, he adds.

Natasha Nellis
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Reporter Natasha Nellis joined the Journal in May 2018 and covers real estate and construction. Natasha is an avid reader and loves taking photos, traveling, and learning new languages.

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