As medical device and biotechnology companies look to grow in this community, their leaders are finding too few graduates from area colleges with the skills they need.
With a little financial aid from the state, the University of Bothell is hoping to increase enrollment in STEM programs and produce more graduates able to move smoothly into jobs in the growing biomedical industry rooted in Canyon Park near the campus, and the wider region.
The university is seeking $1.5 million in the next state budget to add spots in science, engineering and math degree programs. The money would allow for an increase of 210 slots and lead to an additional 70 graduates a year in six years.
“UW Bothell has built out programs without targeted state funding, however, tuition dollars do not cover the entire costs of building up these high demand programs,” officials wrote in the university’s budget request to Gov. Jay Inslee. “We will not be able to expand our programs in a timely manner to address the regional industry needs in the Biomedical Innovation Partnership Zone without these funds.”
With the money, UW Bothell would ramp up from 20 students in the fall of 2019, to 210 by the start of classes in fall 2024, according to Elaine Scott, dean of the School of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Most of the new slots would be for juniors and seniors transferring from neighboring Cascadia College.
Specifically the dollars would cover salaries for the equivalent of 10 full-time biomedical related faculty positions and three-and-a-half full-time staff jobs.
Sen. Guy Palumbo, D-Maltby, the incoming chair of the Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee, said the move would improve symmetry between the focus of university STEM programs and the needs of those businesses.
“We’re basically trying to align the offerings of higher education institutions locally to fill the gaps of the workforce demands of our employers in the area,” he said. “They’re really having a hard time finding qualified workers.”
In 2007, the state Department of Commerce established the Biomedical Device Innovation Partnership Zone around a cluster of existing companies in Bothell.
The zone includes Bothell’s privately owned science parks, the University of Washington Bothell, and Cascadia College. Among the largest private biomedical companies in the zone are Philips Medical Systems, SonoSite Inc, Medicis Technologies, and EKOS Corporation.
There are an estimated 3,500 jobs in medical device firms, said Matt Smith, director of industry and resource development for Economic Alliance Snohomish County. He is also the volunteer chairman of the board for the Innovation Partnership Zone. The partnership zone is a subset of the life sciences industry in the region, which provides another 5,000 jobs, he said.
As firms in the industries seek to expand, a common refrain he hears from executives is a lack of graduates with the right skills.
“They say, ‘We need more engineers and we need more scientists and we can’t find locally.’ So they need to recruit them nationally and that’s expensive for them,” he said.
UW Bothell and Cascadia College are also looking to team up on construction of a new 40,000-square-foot STEM building with teaching facilities for both higher education institutions.
The university is requesting $35 million in the state construction budget for its portion. Cascadia College must submit a separate request for its share. As proposed, the building would open in fall 2021 and accommodate more than 500 students.
Inslee will release his budget proposal the week of Dec. 10.
It will serve as a starting point for state lawmakers when they craft a two-year spending plan in the 2019 session, which starts Jan. 14 and is scheduled to last 105 days.