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In the Search for STEM Skills, Look to the Data

Companies can use available data to find the locations that best fit their needs, especially the requirement for a workforce with STEM skills.

Q4 2019
As every site selection executive knows, what defines a leading location is in the eye of the beholder. While many communities enjoy cross-industry appeal, the factors that make up location decisions are ultimately unique to the organization in need of a location.

For the majority of companies, the need for skilled talent is a top consideration. For example, in manufacturing, factory automation has created a growing demand for mechatronics engineers who have both electrical and mechanical engineering skills. In Cognizant’s 2019 annual Jobs of the Future Index, the biggest growth in skills demand was for robotics technicians, with a 121 percent leap since 2017, followed closely by robotics engineers.

Unfortunately, mechatronics engineers are hard to find. Only 294 bachelor’s degrees in mechatronics, robotics, and automation engineering were awarded among U.S. institutions of higher education in 2018, according to U.S. Department of Education statistics. And, those degrees were awarded by only 10 colleges and universities.

Given the demand for STEM skills in manufacturing and other industries, it’s not surprising that 10 of the top 25 of Area Development’s leading metro locations are leaders in producing graduates with STEM degrees in biology, computer information sciences, engineering, mathematics, and physical sciences. What is somewhat surprising is that the metropolitan areas with the largest populations don’t necessarily produce the largest number of STEM-related graduates.

Houston, for example, is the fifth-largest U.S. metropolitan area in terms of population but is 23rd in terms of the above-mentioned STEM graduates — even though the city employs an above-average number of workers in engineering services. Boston is the 10th most populated U.S. city, but ranks third in terms of these STEM degrees granted — no wonder it is a cluster location for sectors such as technology and life sciences. Outliers also exist, like the State College, Penn., metropolitan area, which is only the 263rd-largest in terms of population but ranks 13th in terms of these STEM graduates.

Of course, many factors go into the site selection decision as companies seek the best possible balance of talent, quality of life, economic vitality, cost of living, and myriad other considerations. Where in-demand skills are concerned, the right location may not be the most obvious, but companies making decisions can use data to ferret out the best fit for their businesses.

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