(Bloomberg) – A decade ago, Richard Myers was the director of the Department of Genetics at the Stanford University School of Medicine, where he enjoyed the fruits of a rich endowment and his pick of faculty members and graduate students. So he left behind some befuddled scientists when, in 2008, he left Palo Alto, Calif., for Huntsville, Ala., to launch an independent research lab, the HudsonAlpha Institute.
“‘My God, you’re leaving Stanford for Alabama?’” Myers recalls colleagues asking. “‘What’s wrong with you?’”
Huntsville may not seem like an obvious place to base a center for genomics, a branch of biology concerned with DNA sequences that requires expensive hardware and even greater investment in human capital. Alabama ranks in the bottom 10 U.S. states for educational attainment and median income.
Yet Huntsville, nestled in a hilly region in the northern part of the state, turns out to be a great place to recruit high-tech workers. As of May 2014, 16.7 percent of workers in the metropolitan area held a job in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics—STEM, for short—making it the third most technical workforce in the country after San Jose, Calif., and Framingham, Mass., a Bloomberg analysis of Labor Department statistics shows.