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The PastHistorically New Hampshire, like much of New England, depended heavily on paper and grain mills to support its economy. With the decline of mill work throughout the 20th century, the state came to lean on traditional manufacturing as an economic driver. And although manufacturing is still an important part of New Hampshire’s economy, advances in technology and the decline of traditional fabrication work all over the country means factories employ far fewer people than in the past. Toward the end of the 20th century, Massachusetts became a center for high-tech sectors. And in turn, New Hampshire has been able to piggy-back off its neighbor’s success, moving its economy toward electronic component manufacturing and other high-tech industries.Despite these historic challenges, compared to the rest of the country overall, New Hampshire’s economy is still considered robust.But talking about New Hampshire’s economy as a whole is tricky business. That’s in part because the state’s culturally–and often economically–distinguished by its regions. So while tourism is central to the Lakes Region economy, it’s less prominent in the Merrimack Valley. And although high-tech work is integral to the Seacoast and Upper Valley economies, it’s much less a factor in the North Country. But keeping regional differences in mind, some overarching statewide trends do emerge.The PresentAt this point, a few industries act as main drivers for the state’s economy:Smart Manufacturing/High Technology (SMHT): SMHT is the largest and most important sector of the state’s economy. New Hampshire’s SMHT sector is mainly known for using high-tech equipment to produce electronic components. Tourism: New Hampshire has traditionally depended on its natural resources and recreational opportunities to draw in out-of-state visitors throughout the year. The Seacoast, Lakes Region, and White Mountains are the primary tourism hotspots. Health Care Fields: The Seacoast is a major hub for biomedical research in New Hampshire. And thanks to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, the Upper Valley has become another center for biotech and other medical research. The state also hosts ten major hospitals, in addition to smaller facilities, that employ a number of health care workers.The FutureLooking to the future, economists say a number of issues could affect the state’s economy, including:Demographic Change: One-in-three residents is a Baby Boomer. As they retire, they’ll move into Medicare and Medicaid, which could place a further financial strain on medical facilities that currently count on higher revenue from private insurers.Health Care Costs: This issue is closely tied to demographic change. New Hampshire is second in the nation for the portion of private sector employees with health insurance. But as these workers retire, they’ll move into entitlement programs, which could force providers to shift the cost of care to private insurance programs–and, by extension, to businesses.Education Funding: New Hampshire operates one of the lowest-funded–and most expensive–state university systems in the country. Many young residents find it cheaper to simply study out-of-state. And many of the state’s young people also choose to live elsewhere. The decline of a homegrown, educated workforce could hurt New Hampshire’s tax base and overall economy.Energy Costs: The state has some of the highest per-unit energy costs in the country. This overhead cost can be a barrier for manufacturers and other businesses that use lots of power setting up or expanding in New Hampshire.

Businesses To Educators: More STEM Grads Now

Sam Evans-Brown / NHPR

Higher Education officials and Business leaders gathered for a forum today on how to increase the number of New Hampshire STEM graduates – that’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. But while it was Community Colleges and Universities talking about the issue today, the lack of interest in STEM is a problem at every level of the American education system.

Tuesday's STEM forum featured appearances by Governor Lynch, and governor-elect Maggie Hassan. But the real meat of the event came from business owners and education reform experts who implored the higher-Ed community to do more to produce more talented science grads.

"Businesses In A World Of Hurt"

One of those is Joe Morone, the CEO of Aerospace industry parts maker, Albany International. Once its newest facility in Rochester is completed it’s expected to employ 400 and 500 people.   It could have picked a lot of places to build this factory. But they chose Rochester.

Why? Because according to Morone the technology behind the plant "purely by historical happenstance grew up in Rochester. And it was a core of 3 or 4 very talented engineers working together over time."

As the project grew, those engineers attracted others, who came up with more technology which created more opportunities, which attracted more engineers, and so on. 

So, Morone says, when it came time to decide where to drop their big investment, that mob of Science, Techonology, Engineering and Math talent was the key.

"We have no chance of pulling off this project, no chance, unless we successfully recruit, develop and retain a critical mass of STEM talent," says Morone,"No chance."

And Aerospace parts isn’t the only industry hurting for talent. Jeremy Hitchcock, CEO of DYN, an internet infrastructure company says his company will be looking for about 50 people with degrees in computer science next year. He says he’s read that the State of New Hampshire is only graduating about 90 such students next year.

"We’re in for a world of hurt if we cannot fill those particular roles and jobs," says Hitchcock, "And when you look at the companies that are out in California, they’re not choosing to be there because of the tax nature -- the New Hampshire advantage -- they’re there because of the talent."

Today New Hampshire Higher Education officials heard that this is the challenge confronting the state: the jobs of the future will be increasingly STEM based, but the specific skills required for those jobs will be a moving target, since these industries are changing so fast. Business leaders say schools don’t need to train students how to do a specific job, but they do need to produce more STEM graduates, who can think on their feet.

"The ideal formula is well educated, STEM graduates, who’ve been through practical experience like working with a company in an internship," says Morone. That's a better plan "than skewing the system too far to very specific, job specific training."

Study hard and get an internship? That's hardly revolutionary.

A New STEM Education Paradigm

But Jay Labov from the National Research Council – the STEM Forum’s keynote speaker – the roots of 

Jay Labov told educators what they can do to direct the changes in the way STEM fields are taught.

the problem are set deep down. He says, nationally, 60 percent of students entering four year degrees as self-declared STEM majors, change degrees. 

"And when you ask these students why is it that you leave," Labov says, "they say it wasn’t what I expected, it was boring."

Labov tells educators that Science education at every level has become too much about trying to make sure students know certain key facts. It's like going down a checklist: AP biology covers, gene theory, cell structure, the krebbs cycle, etc. etc. 

Education reformers are going through the slow process of trying to change this at every level of the education system. They think a better way would be trying to deeply instill students with the tenants of scientific thought.

"So when we think about levels of learning this is a much higher order level of learning that we’re asking students, to do." Labov says, "Will it work? We don’t know, it’s an experiment in progress right now."

That’s the measured response of someone who has worked in education reform for a long time. Compare it to the approach of a business-man, who’s looking for more workers next year, not next decade.

"Maybe it’s introductory courses, maybe, maybe it’s advanced manufacturing, maybe it’s k through 8, but PICK a single point of leverage, and just, as a state pound away at that one point of leverage," implores Albany Internationals Joe Morone.

Whatever New Hampshire’s universities decide to do, efforts will be bearing fruit years down the road. These lean times for companies looking for STEM grads, aren’t likely to get fatter any-time soon.

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