Pop quiz: Name a few of the United States’ regional centers of advanced technology.
If you’re like most people, you may have answered Silicon Valley, suburban Boston, or Redmond, Washington. But you need look no further than our own backyard, given the concentration of banking, life sciences, manufacturing and high-tech firms in the Delaware Valley.
Next question: Are we doing enough to nurture the future growth of our high-tech workforce? The answer in this case is not so clear.
Since 2012, my company – InterDigital – has been headquartered in Wilmington, and it has additional offices and research facilities in Conshohocken, PA; Melville, NY; and San Diego, CA, as well as in Montreal, London and Seoul. Altogether, we employ about 300 people, including around 170 world-class researchers and engineers who are continuing the work we first began as a small startup over 40 years ago.
Our mission is developing wireless technologies that are at the core of mobile devices, networks, and services worldwide. InterDigital’s solutions, covering a broad range of technical areas, have contributed to the spread of wireless standards like 3G and 4G that underpin practically all devices and network equipment.
Put another way, if you have used a cellphone, laptop or tablet within the last 15 years, you have benefited from our technology.
And today our team is developing the wireless technology that will support your life in future decades, such as 5G wireless, the “Internet of Things,” and the many innovative products and services that will flow from them.
In order to do this work, however, our company depends on top-tier engineering talent — and that talent remains scarce, not only in Delaware but across the nation.
Last year, the U.S. Department of Education reported that only 16% of American high school seniors are proficient in mathematics and interested in a STEM career, at a time when the number of STEM-related jobs is growing almost twice as fast as other jobs.
Among industrialized nations, U.S. students rank 25th in mathematics and 17th in science. The achievement gap is even wider among minorities and young women.
A recent report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) calculated that if all American 15-year-olds could reach a baseline level of performance, the U.S. economy would gain an additional $27 trillion over the working life of these students. (source)
The bottom line is this: To meet growing needs for a highly skilled workforce, America must expand its investments and public-private partnerships in STEM education, youth development, and workforce skills.
For our part, InterDigital has contributed to, and benefited from, collaborative research with more than 20 top-tier universities, helping to develop tomorrow’s technologies and engineering talent.
We are particularly proud of our support of local STEM education. For example, last year we donated $300,000 to Delaware State University (DSU) to support its new Wireless Communications, Signal Processing and Controls Laboratory. We also support DSU’s Optical Science Center for Applied Research, or OSCAR.Our other STEM-education activities include charitable support of the Delaware Children’s Museum Junior Engineers Program and the Hagley Museum’s Invention Convention. We encourage every American company that is engaged in scientific and technological research to follow our lead and contribute to schools at the local and state levels.
We also encourage the federal and state governments to expand educational opportunities for children and adults to prepare them for STEM-related careers. Governor Markell’s efforts to expand access to technology training and jobs are making a difference; as is President Obama’s initiative to strengthen community colleges, which traditionally provide skilled labor for regional needs.
Finally, we encourage the U.S. Congress to expand investments in basic and applied research and development (R&D); overhaul the tax code to spur more innovation; and uphold America’s patent system, which is under assault from several directions.
Through partnerships like the ones between our company and several Delaware institutions, and persistent, visionary action from leaders of business, government and civil society, the power of American innovation can create a stronger, more prosperous and connected world.
Bill Merritt is President and CEO of Wilmington-based InterDigital, Inc., a wireless technology research and development company.