Dayton is one of the best U.S. cities for STEM careers and experts say its because of a growing tech industry, local partnerships and a history of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base attracting engineers to the area.
Dayton was ranked the 17th best city for careers in science, technology, engineering and math, by WalletHub, a personal finance website. Cincinnati came in at 14th while Columbus ranked 21st. Seattle, Washington, was the top spot on the list.
The ranking was based on job availability, job growth, annual median wage, patents issued, what percentage of the local workforce STEM jobs make up and how “STEM-friendly” of an environment a city offers, according to WalletHub.
STEM jobs make up more than 20 percent of the workforce in Dayton, according to the Brookings Institute.
Dayton, once known as the invention capitol of the country, is experiencing a “resurgence” in innovation with more tech-related jobs, experts said.
“We’re slowly recapturing that so I am not surprised we are ranked so highly on the list,” said Rajan Rajendran, director of The Helix, Emerson’s climate technology center in Dayton.
Emerson, which opened its location at the University of Dayton in April, chose to establish a location in the city because of business partnerships and partly because of the city’s environment, Rajendran said. The city ranked seventh for its “STEM environment,” meaning it was considered a family-friendly area with good engineering colleges and good transit options, according to WalletHub.
New breweries and restarants that popped up in Dayton in the last few years are also attractive to recent STEM grads, Rajendran said.
“Pizza and beer,” Rajendran joked. “These are ideal fuels for innovation.”
Dayton’s home affordability also contributed to its high ranking.
The Dayton metro area was rated the most affordable for people in STEM careers, according to the report. The median home value in Dayton is estimated at $66,700, according to 2015 U.S. Census data.
People in STEM jobs usually make enough to buy a home right out of college in the Dayton area, said Karen O’Grady, associate partner and sales agent for Coldwell Banker in Dayton and president of the Dayton Area Board of Realtors.
“When you have a growing family looking for housing, Dayton has an advantage,” said Jason Eckert, UD career services director. “That $53,000 is going to go a lot further in Dayton than Chicago.”
Having Emerson and GE nearby has been a draw for UD students, Eckert said. Being able to “point across the street” to GE and Emerson naturally generates interest in STEM careers, he said, making booths for both companies some of the busiest at any college career fair.
Rajendran estimated that at least 10 percent of Emerson’s employees in Dayton and Sidney are UD grads.
“It’s been a game changer for us,” Eckert said. “Especially after the loss of NCR.”
Growth in information technology and cyber security, particularly in health care, has bolstered those career paths in Dayton and shifted the city to a more “creative economy,” said Sean Creighton, president of the Southwestern Ohio Council for Higher Education.
“I think what we’ve got is the beginnings of a metamorphosis of tech jobs in the area,” said Vic Bonneau, president of the GE EPISCenter in Dayton.
More students are eying STEM careers because they know they can get a job in those fields, Creaighton said. Around 85 percent of student internships in Ohio are in STEM fields, Creighton said.
“Those workers are in high demand,” Creighton said. “It gives them an opportunity right out of college.”
While tech jobs are in demand, experts said people should also credit the Air Force base for Dayton’s high ranking. The base has attracted generations of engineers to the area, Bonneau said.
Despite Dayton achieving a high ranking for STEM jobs, there is still room for growth, said State Rep. Niraj Antani, a Miamisburg Republican. The biggest problem, Antani said, may be keeping STEM students in Ohio once they graduate.
“I think the Dayton area is ripe for STEM,” Antani said. “In order to keep all of them here we need to be able to attract them. It’s an ongoing debate.”