Washington state employs the highest percentage of STEM workers per capita yet ranks toward the bottom in terms of graduating students with bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields, according to a study from the Technology Alliance.

Share story

Washington state employs the highest percentage of STEM workers per capita yet ranks toward the bottom in terms of graduating students with bachelor’s degrees, much less bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields.

Those are among the findings in the most recent study of the state’s competitiveness in the tech economy, conducted by the Technology Alliance, a statewide nonprofit composed of leaders from tech businesses and research institutions.

The study, the fourth since the original was released in 2003, compares Washington’s performance to other states’ in areas that drive a flourishing tech sector: education, research capacity, and the investment and entrepreneurial climate.

Among the findings in the most recent “Benchmarking Washington’s Innovation Economy” study:

• With 9.2 percent of the state’s workers, or about 265,970 people, employed in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) occupations in May 2014, Washington outranked the next-highest states — Maryland (9.1 percent), Virginia and Massachusetts (9 percent each), and Colorado (8.4 percent) — in percentage of workers per capita employed in STEM occupations.

• The state’s educational pipeline, however, isn’t supplying enough workers to meet those demands.

Washington ranked 39th among the states in total bachelor’s degrees earned per 100 people aged 18 to 24 years old in 2011, the most recent year available, according to the study.

For bachelor’s degrees earned in natural sciences and engineering, Washington ranked 34th.

“We’ve relied on importing talent for a very long time” to meet the demand for tech workers,” said Susannah Malarkey, executive director of the Technology Alliance. “And it has masked how poorly we are doing as a state in providing opportunities for Washington students and citizens.”

• Washington ranked fifth in venture-capital dollars invested among a group of 12 “peer states” (those with comparable tech and research and development employment).

About $1.25 billion was invested in the state in 2014, which was 2.6 percent of the total venture dollars invested in the U.S. It represented a drop from 2012, when Washington state captured 3.5 percent of total investments and ranked fourth overall.

California was, far and away, the No. 1 state for venture investments, with some $27.15 billion, or 56 percent of the U.S. total, invested.

• Tech research and development is dominated by private industry in this state.

Microsoft spent $11.4 billion, and Amazon $9.28 billion, in research and development in 2014, according to the study.

The University of Washington receives $1.2 billion annually in research funding, most of it from federal sources, while WSU spent about $341 million in research in 2013.

The study points out that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) provided significant increases in funding to both the UW and WSU from 2010 to 2012 but that the end of those funds reduced federal contributions, particularly to the UW.