When you’re a somewhat rural county that needs to hook up to the digital economy, what are the best ways to go about it? Not only has Ohio’s Licking County found an answer in a stronger STEM focus, but it now comprises an ecosystem that is setting the table for generations of growth, innovation, and opportunities.
“We’re doing great work in the area of STEM education, working with the schools, colleges, and our businesses to promote greater job opport-unities and collaboration,” said Nathan Strum, Executive Director of GROW Licking County. “We’re directly connecting industry leaders with educational partners, growing quite a bit, and now we’ve formed a community from this.”
Licking County is a jewel in Central Ohio, located minutes from Columbus. A generation ago, it was a farming county with some manufacturing and services, but now, it’s becoming a mighty cog in Ohio’s decade-long rise as a major tech and digital player. Companies such as Amazon, Covestro, Ariel Corporation, Apeks Supercritical, and The Boeing Company have landed in this haven of infrastructure, workforce, transportation, financial incentives, and pro-business, pro-education, pro-collaboration environment. Facebook has also jumped in, building a new operations center there. In all, 50 of the Fortune 5000 companies have a presence in Licking County, which is commutable for one million regional workers – many of them trained or re-trained for the specialized jobs at hand.
“These organizations come in and are very impressed by the workforce and the services we can provide economically,” Strum said. “We had to make a few changes to grow more economically in Licking County, we did, and now we’re dynamic participants, growing fast – and our workers can go home to low mortgage payments and beautiful natural surroundings.”
Licking County is working with The Works: Ohio Center for Art, History & Technology and STEM Works East Central Ohio, which has constructed a rich STEM ecosystem involving all 21 public and private primary and secondary schools, four universities, and two technical schools. Not to mention area businesses, beginning with the group’s two dozen corporate partners. Buoyed by events like STEMfest @ The Works, STEM Over Lunch, and Kids Tech University, the program has created an early relationship between students and the area businesses in which they might land their careers. With citizen retention a huge priority in any rural county, Licking County is addressing it with this high emphasis on STEM.
At the recent STEMfest @ The Works, presenters included Denison University Chemistry and Biochemistry, EVO Design, Packaging Corp. of America, Newark City Engineers, Central Ohio Technical College, Boeing, Anomatic Corp., and Owens Corning. Brought together, there’s a rich mixture of academia, municipal services, both smart and old-school manufacturing, IT, and tech. They worked with students in design-based problem solving, with challenges students would likely face as employed scientists and engineers.
“We’re working six counties wide, always expanding our ecosystem to involve more students, more businesses, and strengthen our collaboration with schools and the community,” said Meghan Federer, Director of STEM Education at The Works. “STEM learning opportunities are more and more aligned with what our students will be doing in their careers, and we’d like them to have their careers here. By learning what specific STEM skills a career path requires – and hearing it from a company or manufacturer, whether at an event or a field trip and tour – our students can be inspired and strategic at the same time.”
With Licking County officials, from Strum on down, emphasizing STEM-driven initiatives for students and younger workers, it’s clear how the future looks in the county: young, vibrant, and strong – and very digital.