Where are the GIS Jobs? A Look at the GIS Job Market in the United States

Caitlin Dempsey


According to private research, GIS industry reportedly grew in the double digits in 2010 and another 8% in 2011.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics’  2010-2011 Handbook labeled GIS skilled workers as having “favorable job prospects” and the US Department of Labor’s High Growth Industry Profile – Geospatial Technology report found that the geospatial market is “growing at an annual rate of almost 35 percent, with the commercial subsection of the market expanding at the rate of 100 percent each year.”

So, with all those positive and glowing reports about the geospatial job sector, where are all the GIS jobs?   Unfortunately, complaints by newly minted GIS graduates  and GIS veterans alike, as expressed via Twitter and on LinkedIn, is very common. To best way to answer where GIS jobs most frequently occur is to map out the location of GIS related jobs to see where, geographically within the United States employers are hiring.

Mapping GIS Job Listings

Over the course of three weeks, 3,000 GIS related positions within the United States posted on a range of sites during the month of February 2012 were pulled and geocoded.  GIS positions were listed on popular GIS jobs listings sites like GIS jobs clearinghouse, the GIS Lounge associated GISgig.com, as well as from individual company sites. 

The jobs were geocoded based on the city and state listed on the job description.  Of those 3,000 jobs, 28 were unable to be geocoded due to missing locational information, leaving 2,973 locations for geospatial related jobs that were mapped out.

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A heat map was generated using QGIS’ heat map plugin to see where GIS job clusters are located.  Several distinct geographic regions emerged and are discussed below.  While GIS is a growing field, a career in GIS is not an ubiquitous employment opportunity.

(GIS Lounge is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. Amazon, the Amazon logo, AmazonSupply, and the AmazonSupply logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates.)

As Enrico Moretti’s book, “The New Geography of Jobs(affiliate link) explains in a nutshell, innovate and high quality jobs beget other similar jobs which means that location is key.  Despite the growing presence of the GIS cloud and remote work opportunities, “Geography [still] matters.”  While individual and isolated GIS jobs may be found tucked into a local government’s planning group or at a federal government office all around the country, the vast majority of GIS job opportunities across the range of skill levels aggregate in specific areas of the country.  Targeting a GIS job cluster for your GIS job search increases the number of opportunities for not only finding an initial GIS job but also for growth opportunities.

GIS Job Clusters

Summarize by state, California and Texas had the highest number of job postings over the three week period with 178 each.  Viriginia wasn’t far behind with 170 jobs.  The top ten GIS job states based on geolocated jobs pulled over the three week period:

  1. California – 178
  2. Texas – 178
  3. Virginia -170
  4. Florida – 88
  5. Colorado – 84
  6. Pennsylvania – 83
  7. Maryland – 70
  8. District of Columbia – 64
  9. New York – 63
  10. Washington – 53
The states with the lowest posted GIS jobs are New Hampshire, Mississippi, and Arkansas with three job listings each, followed by Rhode Island and Vermont with four job listings.  Alaska and Hawaii (not shown in the map) had 41 and 34 listed GIS jobs respectively.
Map of GIS Job Listings in the US
GIS Job listings in the contiguous United States as posted during February of 2012. Click on map for a larger version.

The resulting GIS job clusters have been broken down into regions that are highlighted in the maps below.

GIS Jobs Near Washington D.C.

The Federal Government epicenter of Washington D.C., and the neighboring suburbs in Virginia, and Maryland leads the way in terms of the sheer density of GIS job opportunities.  With almost 15% of listed GIS jobs (440 out of 2,973 geolocated)), this area of the country dominates in terms of the GIS opportunities available.  The Federal Government was one of the earliest adopters of GIS technologies and leads the way in the use of GIS.  The presence of the Federal Aviation Administration, Department of the Interior, Department of Defense, and the Department of Veteran Affairs to name a few, present government GIS job opportunities on a frequent basis.  Coupled with that are the host of consulting companies located in the area to support federal government, including the restrictive security clearance required military support GIS positions.  SAIC, URS Corps, Michael Baker, BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin, and Northup Gruman, are among the many consulting and private companies with geospatial needs that frequently hire in the area.  Adding to the GIS job opportunities are the myriad of local government agencies and universities that also require geospatial support.

Further north, stretching from  New York up to Massachusetts, are numerous universities and private companies listing GIS positions.  The sheer density of universities, local and some federal agencies, as well as private companies such as SAIC, Critgen, and TomTom results in a  secondary GIS job cluster in the area.  The density of GIS jobs is especially high in the New York City and Boston areas.

GIS job listings along the eastern coast.
GIS job listings along the eastern coast.

GIS Alley

Long known for its high concentration of geospatial firms, Northern Colorado has earned the nickname GIS Alley.  136 of the GIS job listings were geolocated to this area.  The area is also known for its early involvement in developing geospatial technologies.  

Dr. Carl Reed, based in Fort Collins, developed an early open source GIS predating GRASS called MOSS (the Map Overlay and Statistical System) in the late 1970s for the US Fish and Wildlife Service. This area is home to academic institutions, private companies, and government agencies that offer GIS job opportunities on a regular basis.  

Cities like Denver, Longmont, Cheyenne, Lakewood, and Fort Collins are home to GeoSearch, DigitalGlobe, GeoEye, Telvent, and URS Corp.  Colorado Springs is home to HDR.  In addition, Colorado State University, where Dr. Joseph Berry of Berry and Associates, once taught is located in Fort Collins.  The University of Colorado in Boulder also is a GIS employer.  Federal agencies such as the Department of the Interior and the Department of Homeland Security are counted among the federal employers in the area.

Connecting with other GIS professionals in the area can be done through the Northern Colorado GIS User Group on meetup.com (mostly focused on users of Esri products).   There is a GIS Alley web site but it hasn’t been updated in over a year.

GIS Alley job listings
GIS Alley job listings

Oil and Gas – Texas/Louisiana

The Oil and Gas industry is responsible for a significant amount of geospatial jobs in Texas and Louisiana.  The Houston area in particular has a high number of GIS job listings from such companies as Mobile, BP, Shell, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips; 135 GIS job listings were geolocated.  The areas of Austin, Houston, and Dallas also are home to a large number of consulting firms that provide geospatial support to the petroleum industry. As with other urban areas, these cities also support a number of academic, local government, and private sector GIS jobs.

Esri fosters an active user group  with its GIS for Petroleum focus.  GITA recently resurrected its 2012 Gas & Oil Pipeline Conference that will be held in Houston in October 0f 2012.

GIS job listings in the Texas and Louisiana area.
GIS job listings in the Texas and Louisiana area.

Southern California

The counties of Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, and San Diego are home to a high density of cities and local government agencies, many of which have adopted GIS technologies.  The area stretching from Calabasas to San Diego had 120 GIS jobs listed.  Along with GIS jobs at local universities, federal agencies, and private companies, this area is home to a high number of GIS jobs.  

Oh, and did I mention that Esri makes its home in Redlands, located within in San Bernardino?  Other GIS specific companies include VoyagerGIS, Consulting companies such as SAIC, CH2MHill, URS, AECOM, and HDR have offices in the Southern California area.  

Universities such as UCLA, University of Southern California (USC), UC Irvine, and UC Riverside regularly hire GIS positions.  The area is also home to a number of retail and non-consulting private companies that hire GIS personnel such as Walt Disney, Nielson, and Bumble Bee Foods.

Los Angeles is growing as a location for startups, many of which utilize geospatial technologies.  Companies such as Factual, CityGrid Media, and Oblong are building products using technologies that take advantage of geospatial capabilities.  There is a meetup.com group for LA Spatial Developers with meet ups in the area.  USC organizes an annual Los Angeles Geospatial Summit that takes a look at the state of the local geospatial industry each year.

Urban GIS Job Clusters

As evident in the map showing GIS job listings across the contiguous United States.  The cluster of government, private, and academic geospatial jobs in these dense, urban areas make them stand out as GIS job clusters. San Francisco/Sacramento, Seattle, New York/Boston, and Chicago are just a few examples of urban GIS job clusters shown on the map.

Isolated GIS Job Opportunities

So what to do if you live in an area outside of these GIS job clusters and you’re not able or willing to move?  Finding a GIS job is can still be possible but may be more challenging, depending on how populated your search area is.  

As shown on the map, GIS job listings occur across the country and can be found within every state.  The most likely places for GIS jobs are usually within government agencies and private consulting firms that locate themselves near those agencies.  Local city planning and engineering groups tend to be the likeliest place for GIS positions.  

Check for GIS positions as well within county and state offices, if they are nearby.  A growing number of colleges and universities are creating GIS staff positions to support geospatial research and mapping needs by faculty.  Retail companies are picking up geomarketing as a tool for helping with growth and a limited number of private sector GIS jobs pop up from time to time.  

Lastly, remote work can be an opportunity to pick up GIS work, although less steady and secure.  A steady stream of freelance GIS work is posted on such sites as Upwork.

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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.