UMass Lowell Feeding the Need for High-Tech Workforce
By Dave Perry
The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) has dubbed greater Lowell the sixth “geekiest” city in the nation, smack between Durham, N.C. and Washington, D.C. Topping the list is San Jose, Calif., home to Silicon Valley. The ranking was reported in the NSF’s annual Science and Engineering Indicators report.
Whatever “geek” once connoted, living in a geek-rich populace is a measure, at least according to Forbes, of what percentage of a city’s workforce, armed with at least a bachelor’s degree, labors in occupations that require at least some technical knowledge or training.
The report, released in Forbes magazine, defines Lowell as including Billerica and Chelmsford, and says 14.1 percent of the area’s workforce – 16,580 workers – are employed in technology-focused jobs, at companies such as Kronos, Inc., Jabil Circuit and Juniper Networks.
“I find it particularly interesting because Lowell has been traditionally viewed as a place filled with mills and industrial history,” says Robert Malloy, UMass Lowell professor and department chair of Plastics Engineering. “It’s a real indication of how much things have changed. We’ve gone from an untrained labor force to a work force that is much more innovative.”
UMass Lowell is becoming even more deeply woven into the fabric of the city. It is considered a main feeder to the city’s workforce. With the University’s dedication to preparing work-ready graduates for life in the real world, it could get a lot geekier.
“Having the university as a major player in the city’s development and energy certainly go hand in hand with the creative economy,” says Lowell City Manager Bernie Lynch. “I think of geeks as being creative people, big thinkers, people who embrace social media, new technologies. Geeky is good. Steve Jobs, Barack Obama and Bill Gates are the sort of names that come to mind. They are considered geeks, or were at one time. Which says some good things about geeks.”
UMass Lowell’s investment in meeting the future head-on is invested deeply in “nanotechnology, cutting-edge plastics, biodegradables and the like,” adds Lynch. “They’re forward-thinking things they are putting into the pipeline, and it is attracting people to the city.”
Like the $70 million Emerging Technology and Innovation Center rising on North Campus?
“That’s the idea,” says Malloy. “But you know, I don’t think of our students as ‘geeks’ in the least. There are some schools known as centers for such things that might fit the geek tag. I guess the term implies hi-tech. Lowell’s transformation is moving from untrained labor force to one that is much more innovative. I think of our students as scientists and engineers, somebody capable of understanding things and having an interest in things that not a lot of people understand. Our students may be smart like people think of geeks, but they’re also ready to work in the mainstream, to work hard, to connect well with people.”
The Top 20
1. San Jose, Calif.
2. Boulder, Colo.
4. Huntsville, Ala.
5. Durham, N.C.
7. Washington, D.C.
8. Ithaca, N.Y.
9. Bethesda, Md.
10. Seattle-Bellevue, Wash.
11. Kennewick-Pasco, Wash
12. Austin-Round Rock, Texas
13. Ames, Iowa
14. Palm Bay-Titusville, Fla.
16. Ann Arbor, Mich.
17. Bloomington-Normal, Ill.
18. Olympia, Wash.
19. San Francisco
20. Fort Walton Beach, Fla.