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NOAA: Cultivating the Next Generation of STEM Workers, One Student at a Time

NOAA’s Ernest F. Hollings scholarship program students on Chesapeake Bay field study  (NOAA photo)

You’ve probably heard the term in the news of late. “STEM jobs” in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, are the new “It” jobs.

A report from Commerce’s Economics and Statistics Administration discussed recently in this blog had good news for present and future STEM workers. Among its key findings, the report notes that in the past 10 years:

  • Growth in STEM jobs was three times greater than that of non-STEM jobs;
  • STEM workers earn 26 percent more than their non-STEM counterparts; and
  • Job growth in these fields will continue to grow at a faster rate than other jobs. 

As the report confirms, STEM workers are driving our nation’s innovation and competitiveness and helping America “win the future” with new ideas, new businesses and new industries.

Enter Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

NOAA’s mission—to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans and coasts, to share that knowledge and to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources—is central to many of today’s greatest challenges.  

Why? Climate change, extreme weather, declining biodiversity, and threatened natural resources all convey a common message: Now, more than ever, human health, prosperity and well-being depend upon the health and resilience of both natural and social ecosystems and resources.

That means we need skilled hands and inspired minds to help society prepare for and respond to weather-related events, to sustain healthy and productive ecosystems and to ensure resilient coastal communities and economies.

Standards Boost Business: Competing in a 21st Century Economy

Standards Boost Business logo

Guest blog post from S. Joe Bhatia, President and CEO, American National Standards Institute

From alternative energy and nanotechnology to electric vehicles, vast opportunities for U.S. innovation and economic growth are developing in new and expanding industry sectors. As the U.S. ramps up its efforts to create jobs for the 21st century economy, there is an incredibly powerful tool at hand that can help U.S. industry tap into these technologies and out-innovate competitors in the global market.

I’m talking about standardization – and there has never been a better time for American businesses to leverage standards and conformance to gain a powerful trade advantage. Standardization not only informs the direction of innovation, it impacts the strength of the American workforce. Standards have the potential to accelerate the idea-to-market cycle, increase the number of U.S. products and services, and save companies millions of dollars. In short, standards have the power to turbo-charge innovation and fuel business growth.

That’s why the U.S. standardization community has launched the Standards Boost Business outreach initiative – to help companies understand the strategic and economic value of standards to business and to our overall national competitiveness.

Acting Deputy Secretary Blank Meets with Business Leaders in Michigan, Stresses Value of Science and Innovation to Job Creation

Acting Deputy Secretary Rebecca Blank and the BathyBoat

This week Commerce’s Acting Deputy Secretary Rebecca Blank traveled to Ann Arbor, Mich., to visit the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory and meet with area business leaders as part of the White House Business Council Roundtable series. Engaging with local leaders, Blank discussed the region’s economic assets, challenges, and what can be done on local, state and national levels to boost economic growth and job creation throughout Michigan.

Senior administration officials across the federal government have participated in several business roundtables around the country to keep in touch with Main Street and hear from those who are doing the innovating and hiring that support our nation’s economy.

At the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, Blank addressed a Science Advisory Board meeting focused on Great Lakes research being conducted at two NOAA facilities. She highlighted the department’s recent release of a report profiling U.S. employment in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math – or STEM – and stressed the importance of supporting the next generation of scientists, inventors and entrepreneurs and the broad scope of work that organizations like NOAA do that are critically important to U.S. social and economic welfare.

The President has made a substantial commitment to furthering innovation and education in the STEM fields by setting a goal of investing 3 percent of our GDP in research and development and moving American students to the top of the pack internationally.  The President’s 2012 budget included a $206 million commitment toward STEM training and related programs – an investment that will pay off not just for students but for the country.

MBDA Helps Minority-Owned Businesses Win the Future

Workers installing solar panels on reservation building

Commerce's Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) is enabling job creation and growth within minority-owned companies as they expand through innovation and untapped resources. MBDA has 50 business development centers and regional offices throughout the country and is preparing to open its newest business center in Cleveland, Ohio, in September to continue to create an environment for support, technical training and access to capital, contracts and to markets for business owners there.

Knowing that many jobs of the 21st century will be in clean and renewable energy, green technology, and Healthcare IT, the MBDA Business Centers are reaching out to minority-owned firms so they can expand into those new areas and keep communities strong and workers employed.

For example, MBDA client Sacred Power Corporation Inc. based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is a Native-American-owned renewable and distributive energy manufacturer. Sacred Power operates on the principle that “the world in which we live can change its current direction and dependence on polluting energy sources and convert to renewable technologies that provide clean, long-term solutions to today’s energy problems.”

Commerce's Bureau of Industry and Security Annual Update Conference Focuses on Export Control Reform

Conference logo

White House Chief of Staff and former Commerce Secretary William Daley delivered the keynote address to the Bureau of Industry and Security's 24th Annual Update Conference on Export Controls and Policy. Mr. Daley and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, who also addressed the conference, both highlighted the administration’s continued priority for the Export Control Reform Initiative as a national security imperative.  In his remarks, Under Secretary of Commerce for Industry and Security Eric Hirschhorn emphasized that the call for export reform by President Obama and Secretary Locke is real and long overdue.

 “The Obama administration’s commitment to export control reform reflects an overriding national security imperative. The current system—based on Cold War-era laws, policies, practices, and controls—is not responsive to current threats and emerging challenges of the twenty-first century. The administration launched ECR to rectify these shortcomings and to increase U.S. security and competitiveness.”

The annual Update Conference discusses reforms to the U.S. export control system that will strengthen national security and improve the competitiveness of key U.S. manufacturing and technology sectors.  White House statement

U.S. Seaports Join ITA in New Partnership to Increase Exports

Department of Commerce and American Association of Port Authorities sign memorandum of intent

Guest blog post by Francisco Sánchez, U.S. Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade

Just this week I traveled to the Port of Oakland to launch a new and exciting partnership.  The International Trade Administration (ITA) and the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) have entered into a new partnership to promote exports. During an event hosted by the Port of Oakland, Kurt Nagle, President of the AAPA and I signed a joint memorandum of intent to collaborate to help expand the reach of our export education efforts. This effort supports the National Export Initiative, President Obama’s goal of doubling exports by 2014. 

This was my first visit to the Port of Oakland and it is very memorable. The Port is the primary point of exit for exports from Northern California and its agricultural industries. Notably, it is the largest U.S. export port for wines handling over 52 percent of all U.S. wine exports (by value) in 2010.

On top of that, Oakland is the third-largest U.S. West Coast port for containers.  It is the United States’ 17th-largest export port overall and Oakland is one of the few U.S. seaports whose exports exceed their imports; nearly fifty-five percent of Oakland’s total cargo tonnage is exports. 

U.S. seaports are a critical conduit for most U.S. merchandise trade, with more than $455 billion in exports flowing through America’s sea ports in 2010.

Jobs of the Future Today

Logo for WET Center

Guest blog post by John Fernandez, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development

The U.S. Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) is investing to create the jobs of the future today. 

In Fresno, California, for example, EDA provided $1.9 million to help the Central Valley Business Incubator, Inc. (CVBI) build the Claude Laval Water and Energy Technology (WET) Incubator located on the campus of Cal State Fresno.  This vital incubator provides start-ups access to active research within the university’s labs and state of the art facilities to advance cutting edge research in the use of water to support the agricultural sector while helping grow small businesses.

Since opening their doors four years ago in 2007, WET has helped create and sustain over 15 start-ups that are developing water and energy technology innovations. They are generating real returns, creating hundreds of new jobs for Central Californians and spurring $17 million in private sector investment to help fuel the nation’s economy. One of WET’s graduates recently sold its business for $30 million.

Startups and entrepreneurs like these bring an unparalleled wealth of transformative innovations to market, especially over the past three decades — think of everything from the airplane to the automobile to Amazon.com.  These small businesses are tackling the nation’s challenges in clean energy, medicine, national security, and other fields. They will build the leading industries and jobs of the 21st century.

NOAA, U.S. Department of Energy and Private Partners Launch Project to Reduce Cost of Energy, Including Wind Energy

Wind turbines

There has not always been a need to know precisely how hard the wind blows 350 feet above Earth’s surface. Today, wind turbines occupy that zone of the atmosphere, generating electricity. So NOAA and several partners have launched a year-long effort to improve forecasts of the winds there, which ultimately will help to reach the nation’s renewable energy goals.

The Wind Forecast Improvement Project (WFIP) is a collaboration among NOAA, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), two private wind energy companies and academic research institutions. The project began today as dozens of powerful, custom instruments designed to better profile and predict the weather and winds were powered up.

“The end goal is to lower the cost of electric power for the consumer and meet President Obama’s clean energy challenge,” said Alexander MacDonald, NOAA deputy assistant administrator for research and director of NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL) in Boulder, Colo. “Our starting point is to improve the basic wind forecast for all users, including wind power and conventional energy companies, the aviation industry and the general public.”

Last fall, through a competitive process, the DOE chose AWS Truepower, LLC and WindLogics, Inc. to participate in WFIP. DOE funds WFIP with about $6 million, while NOAA contributes scientific experts and expertise in collecting atmospheric data and in making weather predictions. The project targets the Upper Midwest and Texas, which were selected in part because WFIP industry partners support thousands of wind turbines in the areas.  Read more  |  Video

Spotlight on Commerce: Jon Wright, Legislative Assistant in the Office of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs

Photo of Jon Wright

Ed. Note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series, which highlights members of the Department of Commerce who are contributing to the president's vision of winning the future through their work.

Jon Wright is a Legislative Assistant in the Office of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs

My boss describes me as the office’s “utility infielder,” because I help the Assistant Secretary for Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs manage Department-wide special projects as a legislative assistant in the Secretary’s Congressional and state government liaison office

During my time at Commerce, I have had a wide variety of responsibilities and experiences from responding to Congressional oversight inquiries to staffing a Congressional delegation led by Secretary Locke to South Korea to build support for the U.S.–Korea Trade Agreement. The experience in government that impacted me most, however, was serving as a liaison to the Coast Guard Florida Incident Commander during the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill where I advised him on handling the concerns of federal, state, and local elected officials.  It was my job to help ensure that the people who represent Floridians and Florida business owners were being heard. The response team and the administration were committed to addressing the economic and personal impacts of the spill, and I was proud to play a part in that.

Innovation and Invention: USPTO and Smithsonian Museum Partner in Exhibiting 'The Great American Hall of Wonders'

Kappos at podium

The exhibition, The Great American Hall of Wonders, examining the 19th-century American belief that the people of the United States shared a special genius for innovation, is now open at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. It is a collaborative effort between the museum and Commerce's U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), and explores six subjects – three natural resources, three man-made inventions – that helped shape America during this period: the buffalo, Giant Sequoia, Niagara Falls, the gun, the railroad and the clock. The exhibition will focus on the ways these six subjects brought together artistic, scientific and technological ways of seeing the world.

In addition to providing creative and technical assistance for development of the exhibition, the USPTO has played a part in the public program development by working with the museum to provide:  speakers for university level courses as well as inventors from the National Inventors’ Hall of Fame for a lecture series.   There will also be a day and a half long inventors symposium held at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the USPTO will take the lead in providing experts to address the many challenges facing independent inventors and entrepreneurs.