STEM Leaders

Locations across the country are racing to make sure their higher ed resources are producing stem-skilled graduates. Here are our picks for the top tier of the leaderboard.

By Jack Rogers
From the March/April 2018 Issue

The top national priority in education goes by a four-letter acronym: STEM. For economic developers, an available workforce’s proficiency in science, technology, engineering and mathematics is essential for generating economic growth, advancing scientific innovation and creating good jobs.

For several years, we’ve been sounding the alarm that a shortage of STEM-skilled workers is leaving thousands of high-tech jobs unfilled in the U.S. The “STEM gap” also is jeopardizing the ability of the United States to maintain its hegemony as the world’s technology leader.

According to a recent report in The New York Times, STEM-oriented jobs are among the most lucrative available for recent college grads. Earlier this year, Glassdoor, a jobs listing website, ranked the median base salary of workers in their first five years of employment by undergraduate major. Computer science topped the list ($70,000), followed by electrical engineering ($68,438).

At LinkedIn, researchers identified the skills most in demand. The top 10 in the past year were all computer skills, including expertise in cloud computing, data mining and statistical analysis, and writing smartphone applications.

A recent analysis conducted by the computer science department at the University of Washington focused on the Bureau of Labor Statistics employment forecasts in STEM categories. In the decade ending in 2024, 73 percent of STEM job growth will be in computer occupations, but only three percent will be in the physical sciences and three percent in the life sciences.

Because STEM skills are applicable to such a wide range of disciplines and occupations—from software engineers and data scientists to geologists, astronomers and physicists—some experts are suggesting that an all-hands-on-deck alarm about the shortage of STEM skills should be more nuanced. Michael S. Teitelbaum, a senior research associate at Harvard Law School who is an expert on science education and policy, told the Times that the focus of concern about the shortfall of STEM workers should be on growth sectors like data analytics, artificial intelligence, cloud computing and computer security.

“When it gets generalized to all of STEM, it’s misleading,” Teitelbaum told the Times.

Regardless of how you slice it, here’s a generalization that’s not in dispute: locations far and wide are competing to be the leaders in making sure their higher education resources are producing STEM-skilled graduates that are ready to fill the jobs of a 21st century workforce.

STEM leadersIn this report, we reveal our Editor’s Picks for STEM Leaders (box, right). Here are some of them in their own words:


When someone mentions Wisconsin, the tendency is to think of the Packers, cheeseheads and the cool things that are made there like Harleys, specialty cheese, ships and combat trucks. The Madison Region has no problem with that because its agricultural and advanced manufacturing sectors are thriving. However, in the past few decades the region has established itself as a legitimate powerhouse in STEM clusters as well.

Much of the recent growth can be traced back to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which is consistently among the top five research institutions in the country with over $1 billion of research being done annually. The UW spins out ideas and products but, more importantly, it graduates 21st century talent, much of which tends to stay and make an impact on the state’s economy. For instance, Judy Faulkner, after receiving her Master’s degree in Computer Sciences at the UW, founded Epic Systems which now boasts nearly 10,000 employees and better than half of the U.S. market for electronic health records.

Bill Linton studied pharmaceutical chemistry at the UW and, two years later, founded Promega, a life science research company, which has grown from one employee to a global corporation with over 1,300 employees. Likewise, Jamie Thomson’s pioneering stem cell research at the University led to the creation of Cellular Dynamics International, Inc., which was purchased by Fujifilm in 2016 and continues to grow in Madison. Tomotherapy (acquired by Accuray), Stratatech, (acquired by Mallincrodt) and Epicentre, (acquired by Illumina) are all on a similar path to grow their local presence post-acquisition due to the extraordinary talent and support system that has been established in the Madison Region.

STEM leaders
Epic Systems (aerial view of campus in Verona, WI) now has nearly
10,000 employees and services more than half of the U.S. market for
electronic health records. (Photo: PLUS.GOOGLE.COM)

That ecosystem includes the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), one of the first and largest university patenting agencies in the world and seventh in the world in patent outputs in 2016. The Morgridge Institute for Research, which is on the UW campus but does independent biomedical research, is well known for investing in world class scholars. The entity that coordinates a lot of the ecosystem is BioForward which has 300+ life science and medical device biotech members. The UW also boasts an award-winning Research Park that has become a model for research-focused parks nationally with its access to capital, mentors, networks and incubation space. It has nearly 130 tenants and 4300 employees.

Lest anyone assume that all the action is on or near campus, there are two Med Tech companies, SHINE and NorthStar, less than an hour south in Rock County, that are vying to become the world leaders in medical radioisotope production. And Exact Sciences, best known for Cologuard, a colorectal cancer screening product, has just relocated to larger space on the south side of Madison to allow for a 700-person expansion of its workforce. Meanwhile GE Healthcare continues to develop anesthesia delivery innovation at its East Madison campus. These are just a few of the many examples of why this, according to Batelle, is one of the few regions in the country with specialized employment concentration in all four bioscience subsectors.

The region also is garnering significant national attention for its Information Communications Technology (ICT) sector, recently being ranked by CBRE as #1 in the country for Tech talent growth with a 30.2 percent growth rate in 2015-2016. The nearly 8,000 degrees conferred annually in the tech field throughout the region contribute to that growth and a significant number of those recently-minted grads stay in the area, contributing to the region’s millennial population of 31.9 percent compared to the national average of 28.6 percent. In 2017 the Madison Region had over 180 companies with over 50 employees occupying technology-related roles. Not surprisingly, many new businesses are cropping up as a result of that density and the resources that have become available over the past 15 years.

That ecosystem has developed exponentially with the advent of “maker spaces” like Sector67 and co-working spaces like 100State, Bricks and Mortar, Synergy and Industrious, which recently made Madison its twelfth location in the nation because it too was hearing the buzz about all of the activity here. Gener8tor, one of the country’s top 15 accelerators, also calls the region home and continues to seek out, assist and invest in promising companies. It will be housed in the new StartingBlock Madison Building near the State Capitol which will bring many of these resources together in one location ala the 1871 facility in Chicago.

StartingBlock is a quintessential public/private partnership spearheaded by American Family Insurance which is also headquartered in Madison.

The Wisconsin Games Alliance (WGA) will also find a home in StartingBlock when it opens this summer. The WGA started as the Madison Games Alliance in 2016 when the Madison Region Economic Partnership (MadREP) brought the burgeoning gaming community together at Forward Fest (Madison’s version of SXSW) to determine exactly how robust the sector was and to give it a boost. The sector and the collaborative effort has grown to the point where WGA was able to host the Midwest’s first game development conference last October. It was such a success that it will expand to two days this year and will include an E-sports competition.

There are now six AAA studios in the region, including Raven, the developers of “Call of Duty”; PerBlue, a Disney Game Producer which recently sold “DragonSoul” for $35 million; Filament, which does educational gaming; Fantasy Flight, which is a subsidiary of French-owned Asmodee; Human Head, which celebrated its 20th anniversary this year and has two new desktop platform games nearing release; and Bluehole, a South Korean company, which is the latest member of the gaming cluster. Additionally, there are over two dozen independent studios in the region which take advantage of the highly ranked Computer Science program at the UW and of the exceptional IT-related programs offered at the technical colleges in the region, including Madison College and Blackhawk Tech.

Rounding out the talent development pipeline for this sector are the region’s high schools, a number of which have recently been developing, in concert with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, new Fabrication Labs to inspire and teach young people with a penchant for technology. MadREP’s Inspire Madison Region program helps bring schools and businesses together by enabling direct communication between students and workers about career opportunities, and by serving as the conduit for experiential learning opportunities for students at area employers.

STEM disciplines are truly defining the Madison Region and branding it as a national leader in ICT and Bio-science, proving categorically that there is a whole lot of brainpower under those cheeseheads. That brainpower and ingenuity is leading the Wisconsin economy forward and will help support the nation’s prosperity in decades to come.


Fueled by a highly educated workforce, strategic location, world-class universities and Internet speeds that are the fastest in the world, Newark, NJ is rapidly emerging as a STEM leader. Add an energized business environment and a commitment to making Newark the next great Smart City in the U.S. and it’s easy to see why Amazon chose New Jersey’s largest city as one of its top twenty candidates for HQ2.

STEM leaders
The Newark Venture Partners Lab, an accelerator program for pre-seed
entrepreneurs, is supported by Audible (an Amazon company) and
is housed in a building (pictured here) Audible shares with the Rutgers
Business School.

Newark is located in the heart of a region that has one of the most educated workforces in the world, giving businesses access to highly qualified STEM talent. In fact, New Jersey’s highly educated workforce has long been its calling card. With 225,000 scientists and engineers at last count, the State has the highest concentration per square mile in the world.

In addition to New Jersey’s STEM talent, Newark’s strategic location and extensive transportation network makes it possible to access talent throughout the largest Metropolitan Statistical Area in the country. That means companies can recruit from a talent pool of 500,00 STEM workers, including more than 311,000 in computer occupations—more than any other metro area in the U.S.

As the fifth largest college town on the East Coast, downtown Newark is anchored by the campuses of two major universities: the Newark campus of Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey and the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT). Other world-renowned research universities, including #1-ranked Princeton University, Stevens Institute of Technology, Montclair State University and Rowan University also are within a short train or car ride away. In all, New Jersey’s colleges and universities graduate nearly 34,000 students with bachelor’s degrees in life sciences and technology annually to fuel the talent pipeline.

In addition to providing a vibrant community of 50,000 students in Newark’s downtown daily, universities in the City have long understood the importance of partnerships to fuel innovation in the life sciences and technology sectors. Over the years, partnerships with global leaders including Bayer Healthcare, Becton Dickinson, Celgene, Lily, Merck, Panasonic, IBM and Nokia Bell Labs have helped fuel the innovation ecosystem.

The universities also play an important role in providing incubator space for start-up companies with promising technologies. Incubators, accelerators and co-working spaces supported by the private sector also are springing up around the City. As a result, Newark has become home to a growing number of early-stage companies and a hotbed of technological innovation.

Nearly 90 early-stage life sciences and technology companies are currently housed at the Enterprise Development Center at NJIT. More than 400 scientists and researchers work at the EDC, harnessing the vast resources available to them at the incubator to create the technologies of the future. In addition to EDC, NJIT recently partnered with Hackensack Meridian Health to create the Agile Strategies Lab in Newark. The new incubator provides space and resources for early-stage companies developing disruptive technologies that have the potential to improve the delivery of healthcare, like equipment that lowers surgical risk or wearable medical devices.

The Newark Ventures Partners Lab, an accelerator that combines traditional early stage technology investing with an accelerator program for pre-seed entrepreneurs, is one of several incubators and accelerators that have emerged in recent years to meet the growing demand from STEM entrepreneurs. Supported by Audible, an Amazon company, along with some of the State’s largest companies, including Newark-headquartered Prudential Financial, the Lab is housed in the building Audible shares with Rutgers Business School. The accelerator is home to nearly 30 technology companies and an additional eight developed start-ups.

Technology companies in New Jersey have access to broadband speeds that are among the fastest in the nation, with many of its cities offering lightning-fast Wi-Fi and a vast web of fiber optic cable to support companies that require high-speed connections. In fact, New Jersey is ranked the #1 Most Connected state in the U.S. by

Newark defines cutting-edge bandwidth. No other city in the world delivers faster internet speeds as a result of its historic infrastructure and a public private partnership for gigabit bandwidth.

Installed by forward-thinking City leaders more than a decade ago, 26 miles of underground municipal fiber are in place that allow Newark to deliver internet speeds of 10 gigabits per second—a speed light-years ahead of typical internet connection. These super-fast connections are available to local residents and businesses at prices far below those of other cities through the Newark Fiber program. Newark’s robust fiber infrastructure also allow the City to provide the fastest, largest, free outdoor WiFi, in the country with true speeds up to 400 Mbps.

To fully utilize its vast fiber infrastructure to create the Smart City of the future, the City of Newark, NJIT and corporate partners including Nokia/Bell Laboratories, Panasonic, IBM Corp., Juniper Networks and others are collaborating on an initiative known as Brand Newark. The overarching goal of the initiative is to better connect residents with each other and the world. For example, a series of digital kiosks are planned throughout the City to serve as Wi-Fi hots spots and interactive portals to local events, retail offers and discounts, transit, parking and other city services. The coalition also plans to test new technologies via the Brand Newark initiative.

While Newark has long been home to the headquarters of a number of leading companies, including Prudential Financial, Panasonic and Audible, Newark’s emergence as a STEM leader has attracted businesses of all sizes to the City. Broadridge Financial Services recently chose to put down roots in Newark, bringing 1,000 new jobs to the City. The global financial technology company provides support and technical services for financial firms and other industry sectors.

Mars Wrigley Confectionery U.S., part of the world’s leading manufacturer of chocolate, chewing gum, mints, and fruity confections, also announced it would base its U.S. headquarters in Newark by 2020.

These global businesses, along with both established and nimble young companies, are contributing to the City’s vitality and the renaissance of Newark as a STEM leader.