50 best cities for STEM workers
Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, or STEM for short, form the backbone for the 21st century’s technical economy. Schools around the country are prioritizing STEM education as the United States completes its transition away from a manufacturing economy, which characterized the 19th and 20th centuries, and into a service economy.
The signs of the STEM revolution are all around us. Tech companies such as Apple and Amazon are among the most valuable in the world, college graduates are lured to STEM fields by the promise of growing paychecks insulated from the threat of automation, and start-ups seek to capitalize on the boom of venture capital funding to become the next major global player. The term “unicorn” refers to a privately held startup that’s worth over $1 billion; there are nearly 200 in the U.S. alone.
For students in STEM fields, or workers looking to change their career field, it’s important to know which of America’s metros are adapting to the challenges of the 21st century, with a focus on innovation, plenty of professional opportunities, and a commendable quality of life. To help those interested parties with their decision, Stacker used a Jan. 8, 2019 WalletHub study to rank the top 50 U.S. cities for STEM workers.
To determine which cities were best for STEM workers, WalletHub considered the 100 most populated metro areas in the U.S. across three key measurements (professional opportunities, STEM-friendliness, and quality of life), which were determined through 17 differently weighted metrics, such as the number of tech meet-ups per capita, quality of engineering universities, annual median wage for STEM workers, share of workforce in STEM, etc. We ranked our list by total score, with ties broken by the quality of life score. For the full list, see their in-depth methodology section.
Read on to find out which Midwestern cities are rivaling the coasts for technological growth, which universities feed into the STEM economy of significant cities, and learn which cities beat out the heart of Silicon Valley in our ranking.
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#50. Harrisburg, PA
- Total score: 48.43
- Quality of life rank: #18
- Professional opportunities rank: #19
- STEM-friendliness rank: #67
Though Harrisburg, Pa.’s capital, has some ground to make up in the STEM-friendliness ranking, its overall quality of life and availability of professional opportunities make it an exciting, growing metro. Top STEM employers include Penn State Hershey Medical Center, which funds significant medical research, and TE Connectivity, which manufactures sensors used in communication, transportation, and industry.
#49. Detroit, MI
- Total score: 48.54
- Quality of life rank: #81
- Professional opportunities rank: #31
- STEM-friendliness rank: #33
Detroit was the largest city ever to file for bankruptcy back in 2014, due to decades of disinvestment from the “Big Three” auto companies, GM, Ford, and Chrysler, and widespread suburbanization. That’s one reason for the city’s low quality of life rank; luckily, like many cities across the Midwest, Detroit is modernizing for the current STEM age and encouraging new population growth. Big STEM employers include Detroit Medical Center, DTE Energy, and Compuware.
#48. Rochester, NY
- Total score: 48.66
- Quality of life rank: #47
- Professional opportunities rank: #53
- STEM-friendliness rank: #42
The home of Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), a well-regarded science and research university, Rochester is the third-largest city in New York state and places well on all three rankings evaluated by WalletHub. Significant tech companies birthed in Rochester include Kodak, Xerox, Bausch & Lomb, and Gleason.
#47. Nashville, TN
- Total score: 48.74
- Quality of life rank: #53
- Professional opportunities rank: #50
- STEM-friendliness rank: #44
Come for the music, stay for the STEM-friendliness of this famed Tennessee capital. One sure sign of growing investment is Amazon’s pledge to bring a record 5,000 jobs to Nashville in 2021, which the company considers a growing tech center. Other notable employers include Vanderbilt Medical Center and several other health-care companies.
#46. Greenville, SC
- Total score: 48.97
- Quality of life rank: #6
- Professional opportunities rank: #12
- STEM-friendliness rank: #78
Greenville has gotten attention in recent years from CNN Money, Bloomberg, and Forbes for its growing population, solid job market, and hospitality to young professionals. Though it’s not as STEM-focused as other metros on this list, it ranks high on the quality-of-life and professional-opportunities rankings.
#45. Syracuse, NY
- Total score: 49.08
- Quality of life rank: #3
- Professional opportunities rank: #40
- STEM-friendliness rank: #56
Another New York city home to a prestigious research university, Syracuse University, Syracuse is known for being a crossroads of the northeast. Though the decline in manufacturing has challenged Syracuse’s local economy, the city has successfully pivoted to a more technical economy, with top employers including Lockheed Martin, National Grid USA, and Carrier. It placed third on WalletHub’s list of cities with the highest quality of life.
#44. Des Moines, IA
- Total score: 49.19
- Quality of life rank: #30
- Professional opportunities rank: #21
- STEM-friendliness rank: #87
Iowa’s state capital, Des Moines is also the largest metropolitan area located completely inside Iowa’s borders. An “insurance capital” of the world, Des Moines is known for being the home to significant insurance companies such as Principal Financial Group, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and the Meredith Corporation, among others. Don’t overlook the STEM opportunities though: Microsoft, HP, and Facebook have all built data-processing sites in Des Moines over the past decade.
#43. Cleveland, OH
- Total score: 49.79
- Quality of life rank: #65
- Professional opportunities rank: #61
- STEM-friendliness rank: #25
The NBC sitcom “30 Rock” once referred to Cleveland as a “hotspot that’s got the hippest groove,” and with good reason too: Downtown Cleveland is a growing metro center for young professionals and well-paying jobs. Significant STEM employers include the Cleveland Clinic, Applied Industrial Technologies, Cliffs Natural Resources, and Sherwin-Williams.
#42. Charlotte, NC
- Total score: 49.84
- Quality of life rank: #56
- Professional opportunities rank: #23
- STEM-friendliness rank: #59
Charlotte has been one of the fastest-growing cities of the 21st century, with thousands of new residents drawn in by the growing economy, expanding workforce, high salaries, and relatively low cost of living. The home to Bank of America and the second-most banking assets in the country, after only New York City, Charlotte is also home to Honeywell, Lowe’s, Duke Energy, and Sealed Air, the manufacturer of Bubble Wrap.
#41. Ogden, UT
- Total score: 51.31
- Quality of life rank: #8
- Professional opportunities rank: #29
- STEM-friendliness rank: #44
There are Ogdens across the country, from New York to Missouri and Arkansas to Michigan. Ogden, Utah, the largest city of the name, is home to fewer than one hundred thousand people. Despite its small size, Ogden ranks highly on WalletHub’s quality of life ranking, and is home to STEM employers such as McKay Dee Hospital, Fresenius, and Autoliv.2018 All rights reserved.