STEMM the answer to a stagnant economy - Albuquerque Journal

STEMM the answer to a stagnant economy

The Milken Institute annually ranks U.S. cities based on job, salary and high-tech growth. In its 2022 rankings, the top four large cities (Provo, Austin, Salt Lake City and Phoenix) are in states bordering New Mexico. Six of the top 10 cities and eight of the top 15 cities border New Mexico.

Albuquerque, benefitting from negative COVID economic impact in other cities, grew to 75th overall, but ranked 20th in 12-month job growth and 20th in broadband access; Albuquerque’s lowest ranked category was 151st for 2015-2020 high-tech GDP growth. A $100 million investment by the New Mexico Investment Council in the venture capital firm, America’s Frontier Fund, hopes to convert patents by New Mexico federal labs and universities into New Mexico-based companies. This is a worthwhile experiment for New Mexico and departs from its government’s usual obsession with social programs.

The New Mexico economy is stagnant! Unemployment is a meaningless metric of the political class; median household income is a much better measure of the 2022 economy. Converting New Mexico’s median household income from current year dollars into 2019 dollars shows the average median household income between 1998 and 2019 was $50,100 with a standard deviation of $2,400. By comparison, in 2019 U.S. median household income was almost $17,000 higher than New Mexico’s. Bernalillo County’s median household income was lower in 2019 than in 1998. New Mexico may soon replace Appalachia as the standard for stagnant economic growth. New Mexico is already the U.S. poster-child for demonstrating that federal spending doesn’t grow a state’s economy.

The top four Milken-ranked large cities have streamlined regulatory environments so they are quickly navigable by companies. These also have a university that provides a well-educated STEMM (science, technology, engineering, math, medicine) workforce and a steady stream of STEMM-based, growth-economy startups. None are home to a large government research laboratory. All four have booming high-tech economies that attract young STEMM professionals. Brigham Young University, University of Texas, University of Utah and Arizona State University (ASU has the largest engineering school in the U.S.) are major forces for local economic growth.

Phoenix is the fastest growing city in the U.S. largely because ASU, under good leadership and the enlightened ASU faculty, puts Arizona’s economic future at the top of its priority list.

Utah is also home to Logan, Milken’s top-ranked small city. Milken attributes Logan’s success to its diversity of high-tech companies and to its biomedical manufacturing cluster. Access to engineering talent from local universities has made Logan a magnet for attracting high-tech companies.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has announced actions across the U.S. to expand STEMM education into economically deprived areas. These programs span all federal agencies and are intended to bring more minorities into the STEMM-based workforce and bolster America’s competitiveness.

Even though 60% of the New Mexico’s population is technically classified as minority, in our governor’s inaugural address no mention was made about STEMM education in New Mexico. Instead, New Mexico was claimed to be thriving when it is the state’s budget that is thriving because of oil and gas revenues. Thriving state government creates opportunities for our state to invest in its economic future.

Crime, housing, free college, streamlined health services, free child-care, homelessness and abortion protection are important issues, but addressing these will not ensure NM’s economic future. We must make massive investment in STEMM education.

James Gover earned a masters degree in electrical engineering and a doctorate in nuclear engineering from the University of New Mexico and spent 35 years with Sandia Labs, including five years working on energy research and development and 10 years working on national policy. He also spent 13 years at Kettering University on research and teaching of electric vehicle technology.

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