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Indianapolis top in high-tech jobs

Local decline linked to Navistar loss

– Indiana’s efforts to add high-tech jobs have paid off in Indianapolis and surrounding counties – at the expense of the rest of the state, a newspaper analysis has found.

The Indianapolis Business Journal analyzed U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and found Indianapolis had 39 percent more jobs in the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and math – in 2012 than in 2001.

That’s more than double the national growth rate of 17 percent.

But the rest of the state saw an increase of just 10 percent, and at least four areas – Fort Wayne, South Bend-Mishawaka, Muncie and Terre Haute – had fewer STEM jobs in 2012 than in 2001.

“Indianapolis is somewhat of a sponge city for the whole region,” said Mark Schill, vice president of research at Praxis Strategy Group, an economic development consultant in North Dakota.

Schill said it’s common for high-tech workers to flock to urban areas from smaller communities or move to college towns, such as Bloomington and Lafayette. In Indiana, Columbus is also a hub because of engine maker Cummins Inc.

One of the reasons Fort Wayne had fewer STEM jobs in 2012 was because the community has suffered the loss of Navistar’s engineering center, Mark Becker, CEO of Greater Fort Wayne, said Sunday.

“We have also seen reductions in employment in the defense sector with federal budget challenges, all of which would have contributed to a reduction in STEM-related jobs in the region,” Becker said.

On the other hand, Northeast Indiana has been a leader in promoting STEM education through the Talent Initiative of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, he said. Those initiatives include launching STEM-focused New Tech High Schools throughout the region and advancing the Big Goal, which is focused on increasing the number of residents in the region with advanced degrees and certifications, he said.

Indiana is still recovering from hits that major manufacturers suffered that put thousands of engineers out of work.

The state as a whole also has seen the number of computer-related jobs stagnate in recent years.

Even with the shortage outside the Indianapolis area, STEM jobs helped offset losses during the recession. STEM employment increased 4 percent from mid-2009 through 2012, while all other careers were still down 0.1 percent, the IBJ reported.

Derek Redelman, vice president for education and workforce policy at the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, said it’s hard to develop government policies that promote STEM fields because researchers disagree on what jobs qualify.

He said government programs, such as an Indiana initiative that provides incentives for four-year state universities to recruit students into STEM fields, need to be broadened to include two-year degrees and certificates.

The state also needs more rank-and-file factory workers with technical certifications, even though they often don’t count as STEM, he said. Many manufacturers say they can’t find enough qualified candidates to fill openings for skilled workers.

“That is the area that Indiana particularly struggles in,” Redelman said. “Not only are we not at the national average, we’re below the Midwest average. And we have the highest percentage of manufacturing jobs in the country.”

Vivian Sade of The Journal Gazette contributed to this story.

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