The blue/white collar divide

The blue/white collar divide

In 1992, Bill Clinton famously told his campaign staff that really just one issue mattered, “it’s the economy, stupid.”

The results of this year’s election, even with all the other issues – immigration, cyber security, taxes, racism, sexism – that were discussed over and over and over again, boiled down to the same issue.

Voters in manufacturing-heavy communities that have mostly been left behind as world economies became more automated and linked turned out heavily for Donald Trump. Voters in areas where job and wage growth has been more robust went for Hillary Clinton.

Politics aside, the overall trends driving job growth in STEM professions (science, technology, engineering and math) versus manufacturing will not change greatly no matter who is in the White House. Robots and machines will continue to take over jobs that used to be done by human hands. The jobs for people who create the machines or processes to take over those tasks will continue to grow.

Thinker Ventures is based in Rockford, Illinois, a manufacturing-heavy metropolitan area that still makes things, such as the Jeep Wrangler and all kinds of components for airplanes. One of Thinker’s clients is Littlestar Plastics, a very innovative company that can engineer all kinds of solutions for companies looking to make super strong parts out of plastic that historically have been made out of metal.

Rockford has had its share of tech companies launch, grow and thrive. Thinker Ventures is working with a couple of firms, and that are looking to grow their platforms from coast to coast. But by and large, creating a robust tech sector has never been a focus of city leaders.

The Brookings Insititute studied the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas to see which are making the investments to draw and keep STEM professionals. Here in Rockford, we find ourselves close to one of the fastest growing advanced industries in Madison, Wisconsin, about 60 minutes north of Rockford, and about 60 minutes west of one of the largest in Chicago.

The study looked at eight different metrics on advanced industries, from total jobs and job growth, to economic output from the advanced industries companies.

Chicago ranked fourth in overall STEM professionals with 425,925 and ninth in economic output with $78.9 billion being generated from advanced industries sectors in 2015. Madison is just a fraction of the size of Chicago, but it is quickly gaining a reputation as a tech hub. Eleven percent of Madison’s job are in STEM professions, the 16th highest percentage in the study, and Madison ranked fifth overall in the number of STEM jobs added from 2013 to 2015, just behind Sillicon Valley.

One quick look at the areas that ranked high in the various rankings – Portland, Oregon; Seattle, Wash.; Raleigh, N.C.; Houston, Texas – typically can be found at the top of the various “Best Places to Live” lists released each year. So although manufacturing remains and will remain a focus in the United States, the communities who work to create and grow a robust tech sector will continue to get ahead no matter who or what party is in charge.