Here’s a Quick Answer to the Question – What’s Driving our Local Economy?

A critical factor of success in the pathways movement is aligning pathway programs to high value industries that drive economic growth and offer good career and earnings prospects for workers.

Here’s a great tool to help with alignment.

The Brookings Institution has provided an excellent resource for local leaders to tap into – it’s their work on America’s Advanced Industries.  These are the industries that invest a larger than average percent of resources in research and development, and that require a higher than average STEM knowledge among their workers.  These industries are filled with STEM workers, many of whom need college degrees, but almost half of the jobs require less than a four-year degree.

Brookings identified 50 industries that constitute the advanced industries sectors.  Contrary to the myth that America’s economy is all about internet-based apps and services, these advanced industries are heavily weighted toward manufacturing.

Some of the notable manufacturing advanced industry sectors are: aerospace, agriculture, construction and mining machinery; electrical lighting equipment; engines, turbines and power transmission equipment; motor vehicle parts; motor vehicles, other chemical products; ship and boat building, and medical equipment and supplies.

The energy sector advanced industries consist of: electric power generation, transmission and distribution; metal ore mining, and oil and gas extraction.

In the services sector, some of the advanced industries are: computer system design, medical and diagnostic laboratories, satellite communications, and wireless telecommunications carriers.

While these advanced industries represent about 9 percent of the total U.S. employment, they produce $2.7 trillion in value added annual revenue, about 17 percent of all U.S. gross domestic product, more than any other sector.

Discover Your State and Regional Advanced Industries

An excellent feature of the analysis is that it is broken out state by state, and also for the 100 largest metropolitan areas.  You can see in your state or region where there is a concentration of advanced industries, and what percentage of the local GDP they represent.

Learning to speak a new language

Education leaders, especially those leading the work in pathways, need to become bilingual.  They need to speak the language of education, and but also be passably fluent in the language of economics and workforce development.

Take a look at your region’s advance industries and ask yourself, “Do the pathway programs we offer right now match up to the advance industries?  If not, where are the gaps, and what can we do to create better understanding about these industries and get our programs into better alignment with them?”

Conversation Starter

If you haven’t done so already, find out who is the head of your local economic development authority and schedule a sit-down introductory conversation.  They should be very receptive to a conversation with someone from the education sector.  Remember, you are the talent pipeline delivery system for the future workforce, so don’t be shy to reach out.

Here’s a link to the Economic Development Agency with links to every state’s economic development authorities:

Talk to them about the high value industries in your region. Tell them about your current pathway programs, and ask their advice about what future programs might be needed.  Ask about what local business and industry organizations are already at work and how you can make new connections.

Also ask them if they know about this resource from the Brookings Institute.  It might be a great resource they’ll want to know about.

Just have the conversation.  You never know where it might lead.  You may find yourself quoting the words of Humphrey Bogart at the end of the classic film Casablanca,“I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”


Hans Meeder is President of NC3T, the National Center for College and Career Transitions.  (  NC3T provides planning, coaching, technical assistance and tools to help community-based leadership teams plan and implement their college-career pathway systems and strengthen employer connections with education.

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