Our schools are hard at work teaching our children STEM, but what happens after graduation? Some of the best STEM jobs are here in Maryland, but not on the Eastern Shore. Something is wrong when our best and brightest must look for their future across the bridge, and not here at home.
The plan is simple: Bring high-paying STEM jobs here to Wicomico County and fill those jobs with locals. The good news is that we've got some things going for us:
We've Got the Power - The electrical demands of the best tech centers can reach 20 megawatts (MW) at any time, equaling approximately 173,000 megawatt hours (MWh) each year. Lucky for us, the two largest electric utilities on the Eastern Shore, Delmarva Power & Light and the Choptank Electric Cooperative, distributed approximately 8,339,670 MWh in 2016, and met peak demands exceeding 4000 MW.
Can You Hear Me Now? - Network connectivity is important to tech companies, and we've got some of the best. One option, the Maryland Broadband Cooperative (MDBC), offers data transmission rates of up to a blazing 100 Gbps, on lines that connect the I-95 corridor to Wallops Island through Salisbury.
Space Available - Not only do we have plenty of open and built-up space available, such as the 166,000 square-foot former Labinal Power Systems building on Glen Avenue, but our cost of living is significantly lower than Dulles, Seattle, Silicon Valley, or any other tech center west of the bridge.
Teachers Teaching - Our teachers are working hard to get our next generation ready for the future through initiatives like the NextGen STEM Academy and Parkside High School's Project Lead The Way. Plus, some of their Career and Technology Education (CTE) programs, such as the Information Technology Program, have articulation agreements with our own Wor-Wic Community College, which allows students to earn college credit in high school.
The problem is people and perception. We never needed a "tech class" in our County, and the only STEM that comes to mind when non-locals think of the "Slower-Lower" are the products of our farms. We need to change this, and here are a few ways to do that quickly and cheaply:
1. Recognize Local K Through 12 STEM Achievement
"MOTIVATE them. REWARD them. HONOR them." is the motto of the President's Education Awards Program. Recognizing STEM excellence, like Virginia is doing with their STEM Phenom award, encourages students to pursue STEM and demonstrates the local government's commitment to STEM development. We can do the same: Each month, the city and county councils can recognize students, teachers, and mentors who promote local STEM development through achievement or encouragement. At the end of the year, our top leaders can present a Mayor's Award or Executive's Cup to our best and brightest, further encouraging STEM excellence.
2. Recognize Local STEM Supporters
We can recognize individuals and businesses that contribute money or materials to STEM activities, such as those who supported our Board of Education's FIRST LEGO League Tournament. By encouraging this kind of support, we can increase the frequency of these events, incorporate more activities (such as Microsoft's STEM lessons), and support our local coding and robotics teams. Contributors can advertise their support by displaying stickers or logos, such as "Proud Supporter of SBY-WICO 2.0 2018", which will also act as a brand and a marketing statement for the city and county.
3. Maintain and Expand Our Organized STEM Leagues
Did you know that in 2014, Empower Wicomico competed against eight other teams in MIT's Zero Robotics International Space Station Finals and won? Did you know that every year, members of our TEC Tigers' team design and build robots to appear in competitions throughout the United States? Did you know that these incredible kids are exactly what STEM companies are looking for today? Did you know that these programs are always starved for funds, and many, such as Empower Wicomico, end up disappearing? Extracurricular STEM programs allow students to learn and apply the skills local STEM industries, such as NASA and Northrop Grumman, are looking for and maintains the pipeline that will attract other STEM companies. Also, with computing occupations making up nearly 45% of STEM employment in 2015, not only do we need to maintain the programs we have, but we need to add coding competitions and cybersecurity hackathons, which can take advantage of existing resources, such as the computer lab at the Wicomico County Public Library.
4. Help Expedite STEM Scholarships and Internships
Gale Courses are online, instructor-led courses that cover multiple subjects, including multimedia design, computer programming, and network and security. Through a contract with Cengage, these courses, which can cost thousands of dollars across the bridge, are offered for free by the Wicomico County Public Library. Certified individuals are in high demand, and we can encourage participation in these courses by offering incentives, such as reduced rent, like the terms of tenancy at the Rivers Edge Apartments and Studio for the Arts, provided the tenants are actively pursuing an IT certification. We can also develop "buddy" support systems, like the environment provided by Salisbury University's Living Learning Communities, to encourage course completion.
6. Attract and Recruit STEM Retirees to Our Area
Some of the world's top aerospace and engineering, cybersecurity, and medical systems are being used or developed at military bases throughout Maryland, as well as Dover Air Force Base, Northern Virginia, and Norfolk. Many service members departing those bases have intimate knowledge of these systems. In addition, many of these military retirees will leave the service with active security clearances, as well as pensions and benefits. Finally, the federal government and the state of Maryland offer tax incentives to employers hiring veterans. This combination of experience, clearances, and benefits make military retirees, especially those from Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia, very attractive to high-tech companies. However, certain regulations, such as the recently-reinstated Department of Defense's 180-day "revolving door" rule, may cause some of these veterans to depart the area. We can attend the monthly transition briefs at nearby bases and ask these service members to consider relocating to Salisbury and Wicomico County instead, promoting our area's low cost of living, proximity to the above bases, and other charms. If we can get enough of them to stay, we can create a labor pool that attracts high-tech companies to our area.
7. Attract STEM Events to Our Area
Every year, hundreds of STEM and IT-related conferences, expos, and summits are held throughout the United States. We can reach out to organizers of these conventions and ask them to consider using the Civic Center and other local facilities to host their events. Some, such as the Maryland STEM Festival, actively search for hosts within the state. These events will allow locals to show off what they can do, as well as attract STEM enthusiasts and companies searching for talent, which provides a great opportunity for our leaders to attract STEM jobs to our area.
8. Help Expedite Funding Requests for Local STEM Projects
The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) 2018 budget is over $6 billion, and they expect to hand out over 8000 new research grants. The NSF grants money to all types of organizations, from individuals, to K-12 programs, to small businesses...as long as it is related to STEM. While nothing that we have suggested so far requires a large amount of funds, we can look for opportunities to expand local STEM work and research, and request funding from the NSF, and other sources, to support these endeavors.
9. Research Local STEM Companies and Find out What They Need
Technology advances every day, and companies are always looking for qualified people to take advantage of these advancements. By researching job sites, or by examining a local company's career page, or by just calling their HR department up and asking them, we can find out what these companies, such as NASA or Northrop Grumman, need. We can then match local talent, both young and old, who can fill those needs. We can network these locals together and bring them up to speed, if necessary, using local resources (e.g., Gale Courses, Wor-Wic, SCORE, etc.).
10. Research What Other Towns Are Doing to Attract STEM Companies
In 2017, when Amazon began searching for "Headquarters 2," promising 50,000 jobs and $5 billion in investment, it was not looking for a super-sized fulfillment center. Amazon was searching for a STEM-friendly location to support its crown jewel, Amazon Web Services (AWS). AWS is the world's largest cloud service provider, and since 2016, the Cloud has accounted for over 50% of Amazon's profits. Over 238 cities throughout North America submitted bids, and those bids contain a wealth of information on what we can do to attract STEM companies. One great example is Toronto's RFP; Toronto touts the fact that over 183,000 of its citizens have degrees in mathematics, computer, and information science (second only to New York City) and promises to 'futureproof' their talent pipeline and increase the number of STEM graduates by 25% over the next five years.
11. Pick Up the Phone and Pitch!
"Hi, we're Salisbury-Wicomico!
We've got power, we've got bandwidth,
we've got space, we're cheap,
and if you tell me what you need people-wise,
I will find a local to fill that job."
STEM companies spend a lot of money looking for talent, sometimes flying dozens of candidates in from around the country for a single position. However, that does not mean these companies are not looking after their bottom line. If we offer them a pipeline of potential STEM-savvy employees, as well as a location that will cost less in payroll and overhead than across the bridge, CEOs will pay attention. But, as Wayne Gretzky said, "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." So, let's get our ducks in a row and start making phone calls!
We want these jobs. We NEED these jobs. We are ready for these jobs! We have the power grid, we have the fiber optic lines, we have the space, we are less expensive than the West, and we are the "Crossroads of Delmarva." Let's do this!