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Another Voice: Buffalo must work on sustaining its STEM economy

By Brett Orzechowski

M&T Bank’s late-June announcement that it will create 1,000 new tech-focused jobs for a proposed hub is an outlier for any New York State region, and David Robinson’s commentary in The Buffalo News serves as an accurate analysis of any area aspiring to be progressive in the technology space.

The most refreshing part of Robinson’s piece was his focus on comparable U.S. census-defined metropolitan statistical areas, or MSAs, and not just cities like San Francisco and New York City that attract significant tech venture capital. Although New York State continues to search for long-term sustainable solutions for upstate cities, other parts of the country have already created blueprints worthy of replication on a smaller scale.

Some of those examples can be found in comparable MSAs – 19 U.S. regions with 1-2 million people. This cluster includes San Jose, Raleigh, N.C., and Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls. Patience is needed along with a focus on sector-based sustainability – essentials for any region to accelerate, but also to maintain its competitiveness.

This is how.

As part of our research this summer for the forthcoming book, “More Good Jobs,” by nonprofit Upstate Venture Connect founder Martin Babinec, we dissected data from a host of sources that gauged overall entrepreneurial competitiveness across the country. Along with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Dr. Jason Kuruzovich and Anuj Chauhan, our primary research focused on the flow of venture capital and talent migration. But as we dug in, other factors emerged that support entrepreneurial activity and evidence of healthy ecosystems.

The analysis included some traditional indicators but also factored in STEM-related growth and the infusion of private equity into an MSA.

In the analysis, the most promising indicator for Buffalo is pipeline growth for STEM-related fields. With a still-vibrant education economy, 26.92% of University at Buffalo graduates earned degrees in six STEM-rich disciplines in 2016-17, the last available year for this data, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Include other Buffalo-area colleges, and this number grows. The six innovation fields we analyzed include computer engineering and biomedical disciplines, which feed any technology-based ecosystem and will be relied on heavily into the future as the millennial generation gives way to — already — Generation Z.

This is part of the bet M&T Bank is making. For Buffalo and perhaps the entire MSA, securing a vibrant pipeline over years – perhaps decades – is essential.

The obstacle isn’t so much talent attraction. It very well may be retention.

Brett Orzechowski is an associate professor of management and media at Utica College.

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