Tech assumes greater local role in Capital Region

The Capital Region’s technology sector is a growing percentage of the economy, and its jobs have a d

The Capital Region’s technology sector is a growing percentage of the economy, and its jobs have a disproportionate economic impact, according to a new report by the Brookings Institution.

The research institution found that the percentage of so-called STEM jobs in the region rose from 18.4 percent in 2007 to 21.2 percent in 2011.

Nationally, the Albany-Schenectady-Troy region ranks 30th among metropolitan areas in the concentration of STEM-related jobs, according to the report.

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math. The report found that jobs that require knowledge in these areas pay better and have a disproportionately large economic impact, both locally and nationally.

“Albany has a higher proportion of STEM jobs than the nation as a whole, and it ranks well among metropolitan areas,” said Jonathan Rothwell, author of the report, “The Hidden STEM Economy.”

During the 2007-2011 period of STEM job growth, the GlobalFoundries computer chip plant got started, the College of Nanoscale Sciences and Engineering in Albany was expanding, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Albany Medical Center were expanding research programs.

“There was a great influx of those kind of jobs,” said Dennis Brobston, president of the Saratoga Economic Development Corp.

Since the report’s data was gathered, the number of high-tech jobs in the Capital Region has continued to grow, with GlobalFoundries continuing to hire, the General Electric battery plant opening in Schenectady, and more expansion at the College of Nanoscale Sciences and Engineering.

a greater role for stem

Rothwell’s research finds that STEM jobs are a larger part of the national economy than generally thought — and half of those jobs don’t require a four-year college degree, and are filled by workers with a two-year degree or less.

“As of 2011, 20 percent of all jobs (or 26 million in total) require a high level of knowledge in any one STEM field,” concludes the report, which is being released today. “This compares to previous estimates of 4 to 5 percent from the National Science Foundation and others.”

The Brookings Institution is a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that studies public-policy issues.

Other Brookings reports have identified the Capital Region as a national leader in creating green technology jobs and of having a high rate of net patents per worker.

Rothwell found that many non-professional jobs in manufacturing, health care, construction, and mining could be considered STEM jobs, based on the knowledge workers must have.

“University attendance is not the only path to a STEM career,” said Rothwell, an associate Brookings fellow. “While highly educated STEM professionals are a vital part of the economy, many STEM workers with less than a bachelor’s degree contribute to economic growth and innovation in a variety of ways.”

Nationally, the heaviest concentrations of STEM workers are found in the expected locations — places like Silicon Valley, Seattle, Boston and Washington, D.C.

“It’s growing there faster than in the rest of the country,” Rothwell said in an interview.

The average pay of the region’s 87,550 STEM jobs in 2011 was $69,945, compared to $40,933 for non-STEM jobs. For people with at least bachelor’s degrees, STEM jobs paid an average of $82,300, compared to $65,133 for other jobs requiring a four-year degree. For jobs requiring an associate degree, STEM workers averaged $54,693, compared to $34,339 for others.

The local figures are comparable to national pay levels and income distribution patterns for STEM and non-STEM workers, according to the Brookings report.

“The demand for STEM knowledge seems to be increasing with the complexity of the economy,” Rothwell said.

Brobston said the report’s conclusions point to why economic development organizations try to lure companies that provide STEM jobs.

“If you get good, educated people to come into the area, they have an enormous economic impact,” Brobston said.

role of 2-year colleges

The report emphasizes the role that community colleges can play in STEM career training — something of which the local community colleges already are well aware.

“We have developed two-year degree programs in nanotechnology, in alternative energy, in storage battery technology,” said Penny Haynes, vice-president of academic affairs at Schenectady County Community College.

The college has worked with companies likely to hire its graduates, including General Electric and GlobalFoundries, she said.

“We work with companies to determine what they need and design programs for it,” Haynes said. “The demand for technicians certainly isn’t going to be going away.”

Hudson Valley Community College, meanwhile, opened its TEC-SMART semiconductor manufacturing and alternative energy training facility in Malta in 2010, and will be unveiling a $35 million science center at its Troy campus this fall.

The report urges policy makers at all levels of government to consider increased funding for community-college STEM programs.

“With modest training, many laid off workers or those in low-paying jobs could embark on a more lucrative career path in a STEM field, while helping boost economic growth and competitiveness nationally and within regions,” Rothwell said.

Categories: Business, News, Schenectady County

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