Jan 14, 2013
Bill McMeekin
Bill McMeekin
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Where STEM Jobs Are Taking Root

Technology: Computer workstations in classroom

It’s no great revelation that if the United States is to stay competitive in a world economy, it needs intellectual horsepower and it needs to do more to develop it organically and attract it globally.

As we’ve detailed, numerous studies have tied  STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) disciplines to the innovation that drives new discoveries and new investment across a range of industries, from advanced manufacturing to information technology to life sciences to energy production.

Communities across the nation are giving increased focus to programs that will deepen the pool of workers with STEM skills and ensure businesses have access to the best and brightest.

As demographer Joel Kotkin notes in an analysis of Praxis Strategy Group data on neweconomy.com, the major gains in STEM jobs over the last decade have not been in what are considered the traditional innovation clusters, such as Silicon Valley, New York and Boston. Kotkin notes that much of the increase in STEM-related occupations are occurring outside densely populated megalopolises and in more medium-size metros such as Columbus OH, Raleigh NC and Austin TX.

Kotkin is a frequent sand-kicker at the notion that large urban centers will have sole province in attracting the Creative Class that Richard Florida (McCartney to Kotkin’s Lennon)  has tied to renewed vibrancy in large cities. In Kotkin’s view, the high cost of doing business and living in places like San Francisco and New York will deflate the “urban tech boom” and drive companies to lower cost locations.

“The critical fuel for tech growth, educated labor, is now expanding faster in places like Columbus, Austin, Raleigh, Dallas and Houston than in Boston, San Jose and San Francisco. The old centers may still enjoy a lead in brains, but other places are catching up rapidly.”

 Many of the metros that are near the top of the list share something else beyond relatively lower business costs. They also include the presence of major universities and centers of research that breed innovation, attract entrepreneurs and help launch new companies.

Columbus, where STEM occupations have grown more than 10 percent since 2000, is not only home to Ohio State University, but also the Battelle Memorial Institute, the largest nonprofit R&D institution in the world. Raleigh, where STEM occupations are up nearly 18 percent, is in the heart of the fabled Research Triangle and a mother lode of research assets that includes Duke University and the University of North Carolina.

Austin, where STEM occupations have grown more than 12 percent, is the main campus of the University of Texas. In San Antonio, STEM occupations rose more than 18 percent between 2001 and 2012,  the third-best increase among the 51 largest U.S. metros. Helping to power innovation are research centers such as the University of Texas-San Antonio, which has developed a renowned program in cyber security, and the Southwest Research Institute, one of the world’s best-known health-care research centers.

Innovation is fueled by brainpower, but technology is proving that all the brains don’t need to be in one place for it to happen.

“Ultimately, one of the main dynamics of the information age — that even sophisticated tasks  can be done from anywhere — works against the dominion of single hegemonic industry centers like Wall Street, Hollywood and Silicon Valley,” Kotkin notes. “The tech sector is particularly vulnerable to declustering.”

How does cultivating STEM-related jobs play into your community’s economic development strategies? Are STEM programs a focus of your workforce development efforts? Share your thoughts.

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