Life sciences companies thrive in regions that emphasize the importance of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. States within the Midwest are focusing on improving STEM education, recognizing that a workforce with STEM talent helps attract businesses to the region and helps existing businesses remain competitive. The development of STEM talent begins with the education system and requires collaboration between business leaders, educators, and the government.
Throughout the Midwest, employment opportunities within STEM fields are abundant. The table compares recent STEM opportunities with overall employment opportunities.
As indicated, opportunities within STEM fields are far greater than overall employment opportunities. This is true for the U.S. as whole, but particularly so for the Midwest. This data highlights the opportunities for Midwestern states to capitalize on. A focus on developing STEM talent will help ensure that the region stays economically competitive and continues to build upon life science and technology initiatives.
In an effort to improve STEM education, Missouri, Kansas, and Iowa have joined 44 other states in adopting the Common Core State Standards, which include math education standards for grades K-12. To prepare students for college and STEM careers, the region recognizes the need to increase the amount of time that students spend on STEM curriculum and improve the STEM knowledge of educators. Currently, the region is below the national average in developing STEM talent. The following table shows the percentage of STEM related college degrees:
As shown, every state but Nebraska is below the national average of 10.7%. This data, combined with the employment data shown earlier, indicates opportunity, but also risks, for the region.
The region is currently well positioned to capitalize on abundant STEM opportunities. However, if it cannot consistently supply companies with the talent they require, it risks losing these employers to regions that can. The state of Ohio is awarding a large number of STEM degrees, and the percentage of STEM degrees awarded of 11.4% is above the national average of 10.7% (though lower than Nebraska's). Ohio was recently ranked 14th in the U.S. as a life sciences industry cluster.1 Education and research and development are significant factors (though certainly not the only ones) in being recognized as an industry cluster. For example, part of Ohio's success is attributed to its ability to facilitate collaboration, leverage the research universities of Case Western University, Ohio State University, and the University of Cincinnati, and create a strong research and development infrastructure and climate.
As previously stated however, the region is making investments in STEM education. Kansas, Missouri, and Iowa have adopted the Common Core State Standards. In addition, other regional initiatives include Iowa's "Governor's STEM Advisory Council," the Missouri Department of Higher Education participating in the "Missouri Mathematics and Science Coalition", and the Kansas City area's "KC STEM Alliance."
These groups are coalitions of business, educational, and government leaders who aim to raise STEM education awareness and improve regional outcomes in terms of employment and education. These initiatives reflect the upswing in efforts to continue developing STEM education and ensure the region maintains a "home-grown" workforce with STEM talent. Continued efforts along this front, combined with related efforts aimed at developing and attracting life sciences entities will be critical to sustaining momentum and gaining recognition as an emerging cluster for the life sciences industry.
1 Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati corridor. Jones Lang LaSalle. Life Sciences Cluster Report – Global 2012.
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