Neal St. Anthony
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The COVID-19 virus and economic shutdown has sidelined more than one-fifth of Minnesota’s workforce of 3 million people, with the biggest declines coming in hospitality, travel and retail industries.

Still, there is at least one profession growing — technology.

“We manage the IT networks of 600-plus companies, mostly financial, health care and government,’’ said CEO Jim Wolford of Atomic Data, which employs 250. “They are working. We don’t cater to the hospitality industry and others that are getting killed. We continue to hire.”

Tech has woven itself into companies in every industry. It takes data managers, help-desk staff, IT troubleshooters, software jockeys and data-security specialists to keep all systems running and secure for workers at the office, plant or home.

“Technology is powering not only all this remote work, but distance learning in our schools and universities and telemedicine,” said Jeff Tollefson, chief executive of MnTech, the trade group that until recently was known as the Minnesota High Technology Association.

“I discussed a back issue this month with a doctor who watched me walk over the ‘Google Duo’ app on an iPhone,” he said.

Tollefson, citing state information from the tech market-research firm Gartner, said there were 9,900 new IT-related jobs advertised in the seven-county Twin Cities area in March. In April, employers sought an additional 6,300 workers in 33 tech occupations. Employers sought nearly 1,900 software developers, followed by 613 computer-system analysts and 500 web developers.

“The biggest increase in demand is for information security analysts,” Tollefson said. “The reason is that organizations have had to begin working remotely. There are a lot of new issues surrounding security and access.”

This is not just traditional IT firms gearing up.

Wells Fargo advertised for 555 new IT jobs in April, followed by Randstad, which places tech professionals. U.S. Bank, Target and Medtronic also were on the top-10 list of Twin Cities companies seeking tech talent. Companies such as Digital River, which just received a $50 million investment from its private-equity owner, and SPS Commerce are behind-the-scenes facilitators that power e-commerce and retail supply chains.

Tech has grown jobs faster than the overall employment market in Minnesota for years.

Last week, CompTIA, the IT industry trade group, said in its latest study that IT employment in Minnesota expanded by 5,200-plus jobs in 2019, a year in which Minnesota’s unemployment rate was at record lows and employment growth was basically flat. CompTIA said the state is home to more than 11,300 tech businesses, generates $31 billion in revenue and employs 8% of our workforce. And tech employment grew in the Twin Cities in the first quarter.

Yet Joe Payne, CEO of Minneapolis-based Code42, which makes and manages software that secures laptops and other devices from offices to remote locations, predicted that tech employment will also decline this year. Payne said Code42 cut 35 of its 500 employees in April.

The company is busy now, but the sales outlook for what was a fast-growing outfit is dimming.

“Relative to other businesses, it will be a good year for tech,” Payne said. “Code42 can very effectively market, sell and support software in a distributed manner. You can run software from anywhere.”

Even so, the company’s performance will ultimately reflect that of its business customers.

“This is my third recession, and I was too positive during the first two,” said Payne, who is 55. “Tech people don’t fully understand the economic impact coming. Restaurants and retailers laid off all these people in March and April. Health care is having a hard time. Farm equipment. Our customers are those companies. It will just take longer for tech companies to feel that pain. And there is no investment in new software. We’re not closing new business at the rate we were doing.”

For now, local governments and companies still say they need IT people.

And there will be a future. The Minneapolis St. Paul TechHire webinar on Monday and May 26 will host interested training and job seekers, including CompTIA, Prime Digital Academy, Goodwill and IT Career Lab.

These and other low-cost trainers produce entry-level IT workers, disproportionately females and minorities, through training at low to no cost, in cooperation with the city and participating employers.

More information on tech careers can be found at minneapolismn.gov/cped/metp/techhire.

Neal St. Anthony has been a Star Tribune business columnist and reporter since 1984. Reach him at nstanthony@startribune.com.