Image: Stockton
Terrance Emerson
Electrical engineers earn an average yearly salary of $113,620 in Stockton, Calif.
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updated 12/14/2008 12:58:12 PM ET 2008-12-14T17:58:12

Financial managers earn more money in New York City than anywhere else in America. That's logical, since New York is the home of Wall Street, recognized as the country's financial center.

Chief executives draw bigger paychecks in Los Angeles than in all other markets. No big shock there, since L.A. is the nation's second-biggest metropolitan area, the West Coast's economic hub.

Computer software engineers are paid more in San Jose than in any other metro. That makes sense, since Silicon Valley has a vast number of high-tech firms and a worldwide reputation for innovation.

But salary scales aren't always so easily explained, as shown by a new bizjournals analysis of high-paying jobs across America.

The study compared the average salaries for 24 upscale occupations in the 100 biggest metros, using raw data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The results in several categories demonstrate that smaller markets are often financially competitive:

  • Albany is No. 1 in average annual pay for construction managers.
  • Dentists earn more in Charlotte, N.C., than in any other market in the study group.
  • Stockton, Calif., leads the salary rankings for electrical engineers.
  • Family doctors do better in Syracuse, N.Y., than anywhere else.
  • The top-paying market for pharmacists is Bakersfield, Calif.
  • Surgeons draw larger paychecks in Albuquerque than in any other part of the country.

It's commonly believed that high-paying jobs can be found only in America's biggest markets. But the bizjournals study refutes that stereotype.

Bakersfield, Calif., for example, outperforms nearby Los Angeles in nine of the 24 categories. The typical Bakersfield dentist earns 22 percent more than his or her Los Angeles counterpart. Pharmacists earn 11 percent more on average in Bakersfield than in L.A., while stockbrokers make 10 percent more in the smaller California metro.

Bizjournals focused on 24 occupations that offer high wages to sizable pools of employees. Each job fits into the top 10 percent of the national pay scale, as well as the upper half in terms of total employment.

The study group consisted of America's 100 largest metropolitan areas, ranging from New York City — with 18.82 million residents as of mid-2007 — to Daytona Beach, Fla., with 500,400. The group's total population was 197.3 million, about 65 percent of the national total.

All figures used in the analysis were collected last year by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The study also used the bureau's occupational titles, some of which are quite long, such as securities and financial services sales agents, better known as stockbrokers. (Occupational profiles can be accessed at on the Bureau of Labor Statistics Web site.)

San Jose has the highest salaries in six of the 24 categories, several of which have a high-tech bent. San Jose tops the pay scales for computer and information systems managers, computer software engineers (applications), electronics engineers (except computer engineers), engineering managers, lawyers and marketing managers.

Austin and Bridgeport-Stamford, Conn., are tied for second place. Each is No. 1 on three pay scales — Austin for education administrators (colleges and universities), industrial production managers and purchasing managers; Bridgeport-Stamford for education administrators (elementary and secondary schools), general and operations managers, and securities and financial services sales agents.

Several factors affect the local salary levels for selected occupations. Among them:

  • Market size. The highest salaries for lawyers are found in the nation's most populous markets. New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco-Oakland and adjacent metros (San Jose, Oxnard-Thousand Oaks) are the top five entries on that list, followed by Atlanta and Washington.
  • Market specialties. Austin, Albuquerque and Columbus are the homes of large state universities. So it's no surprise that they rank 1-2-3 in salaries for education administrators.
  • State conditions. Construction projects tend to be more expensive in New York state because of prevailing wage rates and the strength of labor unions. Five of the 10 highest-paying markets for construction managers are in New York, led by Albany and New York City.

The 24 occupations covered by bizjournals' study are concentrated in the managerial, financial, technical and medical fields. The top metro in every category has an average salary above $100,000.

The most competitive categories are chief executives, dentists, family and general practitioners, and surgeons. They're the only fields where the average salary in every market is in six figures.

Below are the metros with the highest average salaries in each category:

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