I recently came across a statistic that struck me as too good to be true. Surely if it were accurate, this statistic would be mentioned constantly in discussions about what makes the Rochester area special, and why it’s such fertile ground for starting or growing a company. So, I traced the statistic back to a calculation done by the Center for Governmental Research (whose chief economist is a Rochester Beacon co-founder), and then asked to see the underlying data and definitions.
Sure enough, it was true. And it’s a fact that all of us should know and often share: on a
per-capita basis, no large metro area in this country (defined as areas with more than 1 million in population) creates more new STEM degree graduates than we do. Yes, we are the national leader in undergraduate and graduate degree recipients in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Rochester outperforms tech talent powerhouses like the Research Triangle in North Carolina (No. 2 on the list), Silicon Valley (No. 3) and Boston (No. 5).
And the positive news doesn’t end there. When a similar calculation is done for new degrees in the arts, Rochester ranks second nationwide, besting arts and entertainment capitals like Los Angeles (No. 5), New York City (No. 7), and Nashville (No. 9). Orlando takes the top spot.
While few would dispute the importance of creating and attracting STEM graduates, some argue that solely measuring STEM degrees represents an incomplete way to take the measure of the growth and vibrancy of a city. Rather, they contend that combining STEM with the Arts (what they term STEAM) creates a more robust indicator of an area’s intellectual and creative capital.
Given our No. 1 ranking in STEM and No. 2 ranking in the Arts, it should come as no surprise that we are the runaway national leader in new STEAM degrees as well. Two other cities also placed in the top 5 on both lists: Boston (fifth in STEM, third in Arts degrees) and Pittsburgh (fourth in STEM and in Arts degrees).
To be certain, neither STEM nor STEAM degrees represent the only relevant measures our community should focus on. Unfortunately, our nation-leading successes in these areas can provide only limited direct benefit in combating our particularly vexing problems, like child poverty and educational attainment in the city of Rochester.
Yet it is critical to remember that all regions are a complex brew of positives and heartbreaking problems. To sustain the former and have any chance at tackling the latter, communities must not forget to loudly and consistently remind all—internally and externally—of their unique competitive advantages.
Each day there are employers who are deciding whether to hire for a newly open position in their Rochester office or in some other location. Each year there are university students approaching graduation who wonder if Rochester would be a good place to build their careers and raise their families. As such thoughts and discussions take place, a key consideration will be: to what extent is Rochester positioned to keep adding technical and creative talent into our workplaces and our community? And that’s exactly what these statistics on new STEM and STEAM degree graduates represent: an annual pool of talented people who can further enrich our community and fuel the growth of our most promising businesses.
Certainly, we should expect our leaders to emphasize our national position in this area. But more importantly, all of us who care about the future of our community should often be shouting this critical statistic from the rooftops. We are a city that educates and replenishes our nation’s most important resource: human talent and creativity.
Now let’s spread the word.