By Susan D. DeVore
President & CEO, Premier, Inc.
Trustee, UNC Charlotte
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, healthcare represents our nation’s largest and fastest growing employment sector, generating close to 20 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), and projected to increase 10.8 percent, adding 15.6 million more jobs, by 2022.
By and large, these future employment opportunities are high paying, professional positions that require advanced degrees and training in science, technology engineering and mathematics (STEM). As a North Carolinian and an employer with headquarters in Charlotte, I want as many of those new jobs and the economic growth they produce to remain in state. But this goal can only be achieved if we properly fund the education programs needed to produce the workforce of the future.
Recognizing the opportunities ahead, University of North Carolina (UNC) students are turning to STEM majors in record numbers. Half of the students at UNC Charlotte have declared majors in STEM fields, while the other majors require their students to gain exposure to STEM through science laboratory coursework. While this interest is encouraging to me as an employer, I share the concerns of others that our infrastructure as-is can’t keep pace with the demand.
Enrollment at UNC Charlotte has spiked by 142 percent since its current science facilities were built in 1985[, which is why I’m writing and urging voters to approve the Connect NC Bond on March 15].
If voters approve, the $2 billion Connect NC bond will fund statewide investments in parks, safety, recreation, and water and sewer infrastructure, earmarking more than half the funds ($1.33 billion) for investment in higher education, mostly in STEM fields. In Charlotte alone, that investment translates into $90 million for UNC Charlotte, which will be used to develop new, larger and more modern science facilities for incoming students.
This investment is critical for healthcare companies like Premier, which depend on top talent in STEM fields to help us develop next-generation data analytics, cloud computing applications, cyber security and science and clinical consulting solutions – positions that today we struggle to fill due to a dearth of qualified candidates. At any given time, we have about 120 open positions at Premier, some of which can take up to eight months to fill. And we are not alone. As an alliance of 3,600 health systems and 120,000 other providers, we continually hear the refrain that today’s job applicants are insufficiently prepared to succeed in a 21st Century economy that is fast coalescing around STEM expertise.
Not only is the Connect NC bond a sound investment in our children’s futures, it’s a fiscally responsible decision. Issuing the bonds will not increase taxes, nor will it change North Carolina’s AAA bond rating. In fact, because of our growing population and today’s favorable interest rates, the Connect NC bonds will make up a relatively small portion of the state’s total debt, which will be less expensive to service in five years than it is today.
In business, when the demand is acute, the risk is low and the timing is advantageous, we consider the activity a win-win-win. The Connect NC bond reflects that win-win-win formula, as a critical, timely investment that will enable our state and our region to remain competitive, both educationally and economically. [It’s important that our community support the funding] These funds are needed to modernize and expand STEM education opportunities at UNC Charlotte in order to close today’s “skills gap,” and meet 21st Century demands. The jobs are here; now is the time to create the workforce to fill them.