Features, Science

Boston ranked second-best city for STEM professionals

Pitted against America’s 100 largest metro areas, Boston emerged as 2018’s second-best metro area for STEM professionals, according to a new study.

Conducted by WalletHub, the study scored cities on three equally-weighted categories: professional opportunities, STEM-friendliness and quality of life. Out of 100 possible points, Boston scored 71.94 — less than two points shy of Seattle’s 73.60, which earned the Emerald City WalletHub’s top ranking.

“There’s 98 other cities that would probably be dying to be number two, so I guess I shouldn’t quibble too much … I just think that we’re number one!” said Tom Hopcroft, president and CEO of MassTLC, the largest technology association in Massachusetts.

Boston isn’t far from first place, but there’s a clear disparity between its rankings and Seattle’s.

Regarding their professional opportunities and STEM-friendliness rankings, Boston and Seattle perform similarly. Seattle outperforms Boston in professional opportunities and Boston outranks Seattle in STEM-friendliness, but both cities score highly in each category.

But Boston’s quality of life ranking — which accounts for factors like housing affordability and family-friendliness — is considerably lower than Seattle’s. Beantown ranks 43rd where Seattle ranks 15th.

Jill Gonzalez, senior analyst at WalletHub, said Boston’s lack of affordable housing severely impacted its quality of life ranking.

“Housing affordability, I think, was ultimately the demise in Boston,” Gonzalez said. “It’s not the most affordable, and we’ve only seen that increase over the past few years.”

Gonzalez explained that cities with high professional opportunity rankings, like Boston, often receive lower quality of life scores because they attract more talent than they can accommodate.

“I think because there are so many professional opportunities in many of these cities, more people are going to those cities,” Gonzalez said. “So, when there’s less of a supply for all the demand of new workers coming in, that’s what really affects housing affordability the most.”

Ian Mashiter, director of Boston University’s BUild Lab, echoed Gonzalez.

“It’s one of those issues where we’re kind of victims of our own success,” Mashiter said. “The city is doing well. It’s economically thriving, but it’s driving up housing prices.”

Mashiter said housing prices, while concerning, probably won’t ultimately inhibit Boston’s STEM community enough to prompt eventual economic downturn.

“I think of New York and San Francisco and the whole Silicon Valley area, which are crazy expensive, and they still seem to thrive,” Mashiter said. “People still seem to find a way of living in those areas.”

Notably, the majority of WalletHub’s top-ranked cities for STEM professionals aren’t near Silicon Valley. In recent years, Gonzalez said, technology companies are increasingly locating themselves away from Silicon Valley, where real estate is extremely expensive, and closer to university clusters, where talent is abundant.

“This is something that we’ve seen in the past three to five years,” Gonzalez said. “A lot of startups that employ these STEM jobs are moving away from Silicon Valley. They’re staying closer to these university pockets, like Boston.”

Most new technology hubs, Hopcroft said, orient themselves around good technology universities, “something [Boston has] in spades.” Mashiter considers Boston’s abundance of universities its greatest asset.

“It’s really the predominance or number of the universities,” Mashiter said. “I think we take it for granted a lot of the time, but to see really big engineering research schools, to have multiple of them in one city is pretty extraordinary. That’s a lot of talent.”

Cities across the country reinventing themselves with STEM focuses is “an indication of how the U.S. economy is changing,” Mashiter said. As the technology industry continues to grow, Hopcroft said, many areas are looking to become technology leaders of some kind.

“Every other region is saying, ‘I wanna get into something hot and tech is really hot.’ So every region is trying to compete to be a leader in something,” Hopcroft said. “If they’re a big healthcare hub, they say ‘We’re gonna do healthcare technology.’ If they’re a marine hub, they’re gonna do marine technology.”

Gonzalez said Boston is well-positioned for success in a growing STEM economy — success that could grow rapidly if Amazon, which is currently shopping for real estate in Boston, chooses the city for its second national headquarters.

“Boston is in a really interesting position now,” Gonzalez said. “We’ll see if the Amazon rumors are true, but it really has positioned itself well for STEM opportunities and not only inviting workers to take part in that, but entire companies.”

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