Industry clusters producing more jobs and need for STEM degrees

Industry clusters producing more jobs and need for STEM degrees
Panelists discussed factors contributing to the economy in North County, including housing and education at the San Diego North County Economic Summit. Photo by Ellen Wright

REGION — San Diego County produces more patents than any city in the nation, except for Santa Clara, which is home to Silicon Valley.

North County hosts a number of well-educated residents, with almost two out of every five adults over the age of 25 holing a Bachelor’s degree or higher.

However, the region still faces some difficulties.

Experts discussed economic gains in the region and possible future pitfalls that accompany a strengthening economy at the San Diego North County Economic Summit held Tuesday at the Sheraton Carlsbad Resort and Spa.

One of the key findings of a report published by San Diego North Economic Development Council and Wells Fargo found that North County is on the rebound from the Great Recession.

The number of jobs has increased, as has the quality of jobs in North County.

North County has more employment than six states in the United States, including Delaware, Montana and South Dakota and a larger population than eight states.

Tier 1 jobs, which include CEOs, financial managers and highly skilled technical jobs like computer programmers and scientists, have increased in the region 10 percent since 2010.

These jobs have an average wage of about $90,000 a year.

“The number of jobs is important,” said study contributor and President and co-Founder of BW Research Josh Williams, “but quality is more important.”

He attributed the increase in high-paying jobs to growing industry clusters in the region.

The clusters in North County that witnessed the highest employment growth include clean technology, biotechnology and biomedical.

The average pay in these industry clusters in the region is $90,000 annually and up.

Connected tourism and agriculture have the most employees and the lowest average earnings per job, with employees making an average of $26,625 annually.

While North County is a hub of life sciences, San Diego County as a whole is an innovator.

North County inventors make up nearly 40 percent of San Diego County’s total inventor-origin patents.

One of the problems in North County is that it is a net exporter of talent.

“(North County) export about 90,000 tier 1 professionals to down south in Sorrento Valley and up north in Orange County,” said Williams.

While North County is exporting talent, it isn’t producing much.

The region represents 3 percent of California’s population, yet it is only producing 1 percent of the state’s two- and four-year STEM degrees.

The proportion of STEM degrees received in North County has dropped from 2012 to 2013.

“That’s a challenge because we have these high tech industries that are demanding degrees in engineering and sciences,” Williams said.

Dr. Michael Alston, senior staff engineer at Qualcomm said the major thing his company needs is more STEM graduates from high schools and colleges.

“The most important skill that’s in use at Qualcomm is programming,” said Alston.

Dr. Sunny Cooke, superintendent and president of MiraCosta College said in order to provide skilled graduates, the college needs help offering work-based experiences.

“Education can’t do this by ourselves, we must have your partnership in training folks that you want to hire,” Cooke said.

Dr. Jim Hamerly, interim dean of College and Business Administration at Cal State San Marcos agreed.

“What we really need is extracurricular engagement and feedback,” said Hamerly.

North County’s residents tend to be educated, which is important for the region’s economy.

Hammerly talked about the importance of an education.

“Lifetime earnings of a four-year college graduate will be approximately double that of a high school graduate,” Hammerly said.

Looking to the future, Williams said industry leaders need to start thinking beyond the post-recession economy.

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