By Alejandra Castillo, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development
Nearly 30,000,000 Americans worked full-time in science and technology jobs in 2020, according to the National Science Foundation. That means about one quarter of the American workforce is engaged in the STEM fields that are crucial to the future of our economy and our national security. These good-paying, innovative jobs aren’t solely available to those with advanced degrees, either.
So why don’t these jobs accurately reflect the diversity of America? The opportunities to take part in the jobs and advancements of tomorrow are simply out of reach for too many skilled and ready workers today. And not enough of America’s future workers are receiving the training needed to be a part of these jobs of tomorrow.
The power to democratize technology and the access to good STEM-related jobs lies in the Tech Hubs program.
Tech Hubs was created by the CHIPS and Science Act and is a key part of President Joe Biden’s “Investing in America” agenda, stimulating private sector investment, creating good-paying jobs, revitalizing American manufacturing and ensuring no community is left behind by America’s economic progress.
As we work to supercharge our domestic semiconductor industry, we need to ensure that we are at the forefront of all critical technologies—especially those that can help us achieve our goals in addressing climate change, resilient supply chains, advanced manufacturing and other critical aspects of economic and national security.
The Tech Hubs program aims to increase the diversity of the U.S. innovation economy. Economic research clearly shows increasing the diversity of inventors, students, researchers, funders and founders increases the pace of innovation, which in turn supports good jobs, stronger supply chains and new technologies, like green tech. Throughout both phases of the program, successful applicants will focus on specific, impactful diversity and inclusion strategies that accelerate innovation and growth, and that increase the equity, accessibility and diversity of the innovation economy, including through locally-available good jobs.
We want—and need—more Americans to help us meet the scale of our ambition. To achieve that means creating and connecting opportunities to those historically underrepresented in tech and innovation—women, people of color, people from rural communities, veterans and more. That also means investing in the education pipeline in these regions to ensure we’re preparing a diverse workforce in STEM fields and all the other industries and skillsets needed for the economy.
One of the key principles of the equitable investing movement is summed up by a great quote from activist Marian Wright Edelman, who once said, “You cannot be what you cannot see.” Not only will the investments the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) aims to make in regions across America create countless jobs and supply chain opportunities for diverse communities through Tech Hubs, it also will create an essential network of leaders, mentors and tech scholars to inspire new generations.
A “People of Color in Tech Report” by TrustRadius shared that a key challenge for minorities in tech right now is the lack of representation and leadership that reflect them. That is supported by a report from Karat that found almost 75% of minority students said they knew less than five people in the top tech companies, while a quarter said they didn’t know anyone. The numbers are equally staggering for women in STEM fields. Having a network is essential for young professionals in any field, providing them with more opportunities to learn and improve.
With the right investments in the right regions, we can finally catalyze a generation of tech leadership from diverse communities that tackles this lack of representation where it is needed most.
Think of the new generation of Hispanic tech leaders we can create in the southwest, or the generation of Black women in groundbreaking tech CEO roles in the deep south. Tech Hubs’ focus on regional coalitions and consortia that include every community underscores the EDA’s belief that collaborative, place-based solutions are the most successful means of accelerating growth and strengthening competitiveness.
This is our chance to finally address inequities in the tech economy by ensuring the jobs of the future are built by today’s ever-growing diverse populations. This is also our chance to spread opportunity from the coasts to suburban and rural centers, bringing the benefits of innovation within reach of every American.
“Getting the job done,” as President Biden says, requires every community having a fair shot at the American dream. Through an investment like Tech Hubs, we can take a transformational leap forward in ensuring no one in America is left behind as our economy surges into the future.
Alejandra Castillo proudly serves as Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development. She leads the implementation of historic levels of funding, powering the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s (EDA) mission to make critical investments that spur innovation and create economic opportunities for all. Visit eda.gov to learn more.