Virginia's credentials as a leading technology state got a boost last week from a new nationwide employment survey by the American Electronics Association.

It puts Virginia in a class with California and Texas -- states with technology clusters that are both large and fast-growing, an unusual combination.

Technology jobs in Virginia increased by 12.4 percent in 1997, the third best growth rate in the nation that year, according to the AEA. The commonwealth also ranked ninth in the overall number of tech jobs, as defined by the AEA from Labor Department industry classifications. No other state managed a top 10 ranking in both the number and rate of increase of tech jobs.

It's no mystery why. States such as Massachusetts and Illinois already have a big corps of tech workers and to keep expanding off such a large base requires a very fast-growing economy.

States including North Dakota and Idaho, where technology is a recent arrival, have an easier time posting rapid percentage increases in technology employment because they're starting off so small.

Virginia also finished in the top 10 in average technology wages and the number of tech workers per 1,000 private sector workers in 1997, a measure of tech industry concentration in the state.

The AEA survey uses 1997 employment figures, the most recent that offer the necessary detail on technology jobs. But it's not likely that the state rankings have changed dramatically over the past year, said AEA's research vice president, Michaela D. Platzer.

Maryland also placed high in several categories, although its biotech workers were not included in the AEA survey. The state ranked ninth in average technology wages and 10th in tech worker concentration.

The District placed fourth in average technology wages and 23rd in tech worker concentration.

The tech workers in the AEA survey had an average annual wage of $53,145, far ahead of the average wage of $30,053 for all private sector workers, said AEA President William T. Archey.

AEA has been publishing state rankings for several years to highlight the tech industry's growth, hoping to attract attention to its lobbying messages to Congress on tech issues.

While AEA research doesn't explain why some states do so much better than others in increasing technology employment, Archey argues that educational investment is a key.

In Alaska, Nevada, North Carolina, South Dakota, Utah and Virginia, the number of technology degrees granted annually increased by more than 10 percent from 1990 to 1996, according to an earlier AEA study. All of these states posted very large gains in technology employment from 1990 to 1997. But Vermont produced fewer tech graduates in 1996 than at the beginning of the decade and Montana managed only slight increase. Yet both were among the tech job leaders, as well.

More likely, a state's success in adding tech jobs depends on many things, including the kinds of tech companies it already has, the strength of its economy and the appeal of its cities, neighborhoods and recreational attractions.

WHERE THE TECH JOBS ARE

A new report from the American Electronics Association shows how the states rank in technology employment* and job growth. Here's a look at how the region fared.

Technology employment

Rank: 6

State: Virginia

Tech workers per 1,000: 60

Rank: 10

State: Maryland

Tech workers per 1,000: 54

Rank: 23

State: D.C.

Tech workers per 1,000: 39

U.S. average: Tech workers per 1,000: 45

Technology employment growth

Rank:

State:

Change '96-'97:

Rank: 3

State: Virginia

Change '96-'97:12.4%

Rank: 23

State: Maryland

Change '96-'97:5.5%

Rank: 33

State: D.C.

Change '96-'97:4.0%

U.S. average Change '96-'97:7.1%

Technology wages

Rank: 4

State: D.C.

Average wages: $61,862

Rank: 8

State: Virginia

Average wages: $56,757

Rank: 9

State: Maryland

Average wages: $54,976

U.S. average Average wages: $53,145

SOURCE: American Electronics Association

*Includes technology manufacturing, communications services, software and computer-related services.

Does not include biotechnology or temporary technology workers.