A California summer ought to mean stretching out on the beach or communing with nature in the Sierra Nevada. But in Silicon Valley, as in much of the world of U.S. engineering, the mood was more uneasy than most would have wished, with signals decidedly mixed as the summer season began.
Though employment among U.S. electrical and electronics engineers had grown modestly in the second quarter of the year, employment of computer scientists and software engineers dropped rather precipitously. In Silicon Valley itself, employment was still far below its 2001 peak and not much above 1995 levels, office vacancies remained near a record high, and venture capital investment was still very sluggish.
But how current are those readings from first- and second-quarter economic and demographic data? To get a more up-to-date sense of Silicon Valley's real mood today, IEEE Spectrum devised its own leading indicators.
Day-Care Enrollments . When both parents are working hard and making good money, conforming to the Yuppie stereotype, more kids are cared for outside the home. At Palo Alto Community Child Care, executive director Margo Dutton reports, "We are nowhere near where we were during the pre-2001 boom, when we had long waiting lists. But we are now for the first time experiencing increased enrollment. We are not at overflow, but parents are no longer leaving. Enrollments have stabilized and are beginning to increase." Specifically, enrollments at the organization's 10 day-care centers for school-age children are up 10 to 15 percent this fall, compared with enrollments in the fall of last year.
BMW Sales . At Stevens Creek BMW, in Santa Clara, car sales were up 11 percent in June from totals in June 2003 and 48 percent above those in June 2002, when they hit bottom. Right now the dealership is typically selling about 250 cars per month.
Hotel Ocupancies . Hotel room bookings were up 14.2 percent from March to May of this year compared with bookings for the same period the year before, when they were 11.9 percent below the levels of March to May 2002.
Resturant Reservations . Il Fornaio, a Palo Alto eatery popular with deal makers, reports that the number of guests seated was up 5 percent in June from that in June 2003. In June last year, seatings were down 7 percent from those in June the year before, when they were 12 percent below those in June 2001.