Spokane ranks very low for a STEM jobs based economy

The Brookings Institution profiles the top 100 “STEM” jobs metro areas nationwide. STEM refers to education or jobs in “science, technology, engineering or mathematics”. This particular study defines “STEM” jobs very broadly to include metal fabricators (if they use some math in their work), auto repair technicians (who use computer-based diagnostics) and technical writers who write about tech, in addition to the usual definition of STEM (4 year degrees in science or engineering or computer science).  The unusually broad definition suggests this study had a conclusion before the study began.

The Hidden STEM Economy: Metropolitan Area Profiles.

Absent from the list is Spokane – the future med school will help a bit but will not add enough to place on this list.


6 Responses to Spokane ranks very low for a STEM jobs based economy

  1. Ian Cunningham says:

    I got curious about your comment “the unusually broad definition suggests this study had a conclusion before the study began.” In looking at the report comments, it’s clear to me that Brookings wants to expand the definition to technical occupations that don’t require degree-level education:
    “Half of all STEM jobs are available to workers without a four-year college degree, and these jobs pay $53,000 on average—a wage 10 percent higher than jobs with similar educational requirements.”
    Now I’m curious if you have an idea or opinion why Brookings wants to do expand the STEM definition.

  2. inlandnw says:

    Thank you for the comment and question.

    I have no particular information as to what Brookings was trying to do with the study. I just found it odd that they were using a non-traditional and surprisingly broad definition of STEM jobs.

    By including people who use tech or some math in their job, their definition greatly expands the number of jobs that can be defined as “STEM” jobs. When that type of expansion occurs, greatly inflating the customary estimates of anything, there is usually a lobbying component hiding behind the scenes.

    I have seen this pattern before in some other areas. For example, back in 2000, the then named “Information Technology Association of America” (ITAA) estimated over 10 million “IT” workers in the country. They used a definition provided by a community college (in WA!) for “IT worker” which itself was extraordinarily broad. A worker that ran a copy center where the copiers were operated with computer-based interfaces was classified as an “IT” worker, for example. The goal of the ITAA was to lobby for more IT workers – which would help to keep salaries down and serve the interests of its member companies. Some one who installed office telephone systems was classified as an “IT worker” – yet that hardly meets the IT worker definition that most of us might have. This inflated number was then used by the ITAA to lobby for importing more high tech workers from other countries, even though the “10 million” number was not related to the much smaller number of college degree’d engineers and computer scientists.

    The Brookings study could be used for lobbying for
    – more science or math education in public schools
    – more money for college and university STEM programs
    – more money for community college technical training programs
    – to claim a shortage of a now much larger STEM worker class and then used to lobby for more temporary or permanent immigration of STEM workers from abroad

    I have no idea about the goal of the Brooking’s study and can only guess at the motive. Based on past experience, it looks “fishy”.

  3. Chris Kelly says:

    Thanks for the link to the Brookings report, which analyzes the 100 largest metro areas for the quality of their STEM economies. Spokane is not listed simply because we’re not among the largest metro areas. It’s not that Spokane necessarily ranks low for STEM jobs. We might or we might not. We’re not included in the analysis at all. It would be good to know how we actually do compare.

  4. inlandnw says:

    Chris, thanks for the comment. There is data on this blog that does look at Spokane’s capacity for STEM subjects independent of size and I should have added these links:


    And especially this item

    It seems 21st century opportunities will go those who do more science/tech/engineering work than those that do not and per the above data, Spokane’s presence is weak today. The science side will get better when WSU’s Pharmacy program and the future med school program are established in Spokane (both great additions).

    Sadly, the engineering and high tech graduate programs are close to non-existent in Spokane (they existed a decade ago but have since vanished).

    Graduate programs in all STEM subjects are important for many reasons. Startups flow out of graduate programs as students graduate and pursue their research/design efforts into spin offs/startups. That helps to pump up the local economy.

    The availability of graduate programs is important to recruiting workers – without the availability of graduate programs, ambitious people who want the option to pursue leading edge work and education, will not relocate to Spokane. That hurts Spokane as a place to do competitive national or international level high tech work.

    A review of the UW in Seattle shows a wide variety of multi-disciplinary work being done in their med school and programs in many other fields, including engineering, robotics, computer science, informatics, etc. Spokane does not have any plans to offer those other capabilities and that will be a limiting factor on opportunities in Spokane.

    It would be great if Greater Spokane would expend some of its lobbying efforts on returning graduate “-TEM” programs to the Spokane area.

  5. Zelda Krup says:

    STEM, at least as defined by the CV school district, includes instruction in cosmetology and fire-fighting science. So this helps include kids that want to be beauticians and other kids who want temp jobs for the various fire agency contractors to DNR, BLM and the state and national forests. How much math and science content in those two particular fields could be minimal. The definitions of STEM from place to place matter a lot. If it turns out that most of the CVSD kids are in those two fields, it would discouraging given the true intent of the STEM effort which is to make the U.S. technologically and scientifically competitive.

  6. inlandnw says:

    Interesting comment, Zelda. That also hints at another reason to use inflated “STEM” definitions – not just lobbying but likely as a buzzword for grant applications.

    If a school district is seeking more funding in an area via a state or federal government grant, I suspect a grant that says its for “STEM” education is more likely to be funded than a grant for cosmetology or fire fighting. By redefining cosmetology and firefighting as “STEM”, more students are in STEM programs (and politicians all smile and say, “Isn’t this wonderful?”) and more money for “STEM” magically arrives.

    Back to the Brookings study – there’s likely an ulterior motive behind the study and we can only guess at what that motive might be. But the clue for an ulterior motive is their non-traditional and very broadly defined category of “STEM” workers.

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