Mark Muro is having a conversation with someone in a bar. The person’s in their late twenties and is having trouble finding work. Maybe they have a high school diploma. Mark’s advice? Enroll in the closest community college you can.


Auto manufacturing and digital services are some of the industries contributing to Kentucky’s economic growth. And you don’t need a Master’s or PhD to get a job in these areas.

“STEM workers are crucial to regional prosperity and advanced industry success but they don’t all need to have to have college degrees,” says Muro, senior fellow and policy director at the Brookings Institute’s Metropolitan Policy Program.

Muro did a study tracking the growth of advanced industries. Blue-collar STEM jobs fall under these industries, which employ more than 170,000 people in Kentucky. The average salary in an advanced industry is just over $65,000 in the commonwealth. That compares with almost $42,000 for all other industries.

Muro says experiential learning in middle and high school, field trips to factories and energy plants, as well as courses in community college can help future workers prepare for those jobs.

“If we do some of those things,” he says, “there’s a real pathway for people from diverse backgrounds or underserved communities to plug into industries that actually pay very well, including at the sub-baccalaureate level.”

He’s impressed by the digital boom — and that the sector is not just in the usual places, such as San Francisco, Boston and Seattle.

“More and more places are getting into that game,” he says. “Louisville has 6,000 jobs in computer systems design and has been seeing solid growth in that area.”

He says being strong in high-tech digital services, as well as auto manufacturing, will continue to grow Louisville’s economy — a line that couples well with Mayor Greg Fischer’s near-constant refrain that growing tech jobs is a key part of the city’s future.

Roxanne Scott covers the economy for WFPL News.