Consider Geography When Evaluating Job Offers

Choosing a location with diverse job opportunities can reduce your difficulty in finding a new job later in your career. One of the major factors lengthening mid-career job hunts is limiting your job hunt to your current geographic area. This limitation can be due to a spouse’s career, unwillingness to uproot your children and force them to change schools and leave friends behind, and reluctance to sell your home due to the recent large drop in real estate values.

You can avoid these problems by locating your first or next job in a Porter cluster. Porter complexes are concentrations of companies in a particular business, their suppliers and customers. Silicon Valley is perhaps the best known example of a Porter cluster. Examples of pharmaceutical industry Porter clusters are the Boston area, greater Philadelphia area and Research Triangle Park in North Carolina. Chemical industry Porter clusters include the area extending from Houston to central Louisiana. Houston is also the focal point of an oil industry cluster that includes hydrocarbon exploration and production, technology development, and oil refining.

The existence of large R&D centers and production plants in a given area prompts suppliers and customers to locate in the same area providing additional jobs for chemical professionals. Concentration of these facilities provides a kind of local economy of scale in which the proximity of firms, suppliers, contract organizations, and a skilled work force contributes to increased productivity and innovation according to Patrick Connelly, Senior Director of Vertex Pharmaceuticals. A major reason for these advantages is that geographic proximity promotes frequent face-to-face communication that doesn’t entail costly, time-consuming business trips. With crude oil prices rising again and pushing up the cost of gasoline and diesel fuel, this concentration can also reduce transportation costs of shipping raw materials and products manufactured from them from suppliers to customers.

Service laboratories such as analytical laboratories and contract research organizations may locate their own facilities in a Porter cluster of laboratories to be near these potential customers. So may law firms and chemical consultants..

The concentration of a large number of chemists and other scientists in a laboratory Porter cluster promotes strong, active local scientific organizations such as ACS local sections. Their activities can stimulate creativity and promote interactions of chemical professionals working for different organizations.

The existence of Porter clusters can foster development of a higher quality of life – an important factor in attracting knowledge workers such as chemical professionals to the area. Porter clusters of intellectually based industries such as the chemical, pharmaceutical, biotechnology and other firms employing substantial numbers of chemists promotes the development of high quality pre-college school systems and local universities and colleges. In turn, these institutions are magnets for additional firms to locate in the same Porter cluster.

Personal experience

I didn’t consider location in my first two job hunts. For my second job I moved into a town where the only two firms employing chemists were a large oilfield services research center and a small oil refinery. Five years later the refinery closed and the research center experienced massive layoffs. So when I decided to change jobs two years later I had no local options. At the same time the local real estate market was very depressed; many homes were repossessed and homes for sale remained on the market for a year or more. I was very fortunate that my next employer bought my house paying a fair price as part of my relocation package to Houston, a Porter cluster for the oil and petrochemical industries. Otherwise, I’m not sure I would have changed jobs even though I was unhappy.

When my employer sold the business I worked in to another company, I was able to work for the new owners for five years because of the empty lab facilities available in the Houston Porter cluster. When I decided to start my consulting and technical writing business, I had many of the professional contacts I developed over the course of my career close by in the Houston Porter cluster. Despite the ubiquity of electronic communications, being available for face-to-face meetings even at short notice has really helped my business.

If you didn’t choose a Porter cluster during your last job hunt, you may want to focus on Porter clusters during your next job hunt.

John Borchardt is a chemist and freelance writer who has been an ACS career consultant for 15 years. He is the author of the ACS/Oxford University Press Book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers.” He has had more than 1200 articles published in a variety of magazines, newspapers and encyclopedias. As an industrial chemist, he holds 30 U.S. and more than 125 international patents and is the author of more than 130 peer-reviewed papers.

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