Las Cruces ranked among top 30 cities in nation for STEM jobs

Las Cruces ranked among top 30 cities in the nation for jobs in science and math fields

Writer: Jason Gibbs, Las Cruces Sun-News

LAS CRUCES >> A new national study has ranked Las Cruces as among the top cities in the nation for workers in the so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.

According to NerdWallet, Las Cruces ranks number 26 in the nation based on three factors.

The Las Cruces metro area features 67.29 STEM employees per 1,000. With a median rent of $650 – lower than many other top cities on this list — the Las Cruces area is an attractive destination for STEM graduates seeking a lower cost of living.

And, when students return to school in the fall, they will have the benefit of teachers who have undergone training at New Mexico State University to bring STEM education into the classroom in a way that will engage them and keep them interested in those subjects.

Michele Shuster, an associate professor of biology at NMSU, is leading the training for elementary and middle school teachers during the summer.

The lessons will help teachers bring science, technology, engineering and math lessons to children and engage them in the classroom. Getting children interested at the earliest possible age is vital, Shuster said. The training is funded by the National Institute of Health through a science education partnership award.

“We intentionally focus on those (grades) as opposed to high school because, in general, there are fewer opportunities for those teachers for STEM professional development,” she said. “There are several studies that show students tend to lose their interest in science around middle school.”

City officials agree that Las Cruces is a good place to be if you are working in any STEM-related field. “This isn’t a total surprise to us,” said Gary Camarano, the city’s economic development coordinator. “New Mexico ranks number-one in the nation for PhDs per capita, and sixth in science and engineering graduate students. There are a lot of educated and talented people here, and it reinforces that the workforce in Las Cruces is competitive nationally. Las Cruces is a great place for businesses to locate to or expand.”

At the local level, roughly 33 percent of the workforce in Las Cruces holds a bachelor’s degree, compared to a statewide average of 28 percent; and 14 percent of the workforce here has advanced degrees compared to 11 percent nationwide, Camarano said.

He added that there are segments of the workforce that need help to improve, but “we are making great strides to become a location for businesses.”

Mayor Ken Miyagishima said the study showed what locals already know.

“This confirms our belief that Las Cruces is a great place for young people looking for high-tech careers,” he said. “With the advanced work in aerospace and other advanced manufacturing here, and the entrepreneurial environment that fosters business creation, we’re the place to be.”

Robin Zielinski Sun-News Sierra Middle School teacher Melly Locke, center, sits between two Vista Middle School teachers Josh Wisner, left, and Amy Lopeman on Thursday during a STEM class at NMSU in Foster Hall.

NMSU’s Shuster said having students graduate high school with a strong STEM background has benefits for the community as well.

“My broader perspective is that having smart citizens who can go to the doctor with good questions ‘Why are you prescribing this?’ or ‘Do I need this right now?’ is good for the community,” she said. “A lot of that is critical thinking and that could not be more important — to go through the pros and cons of important decisions in our lives.”

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