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Building a 21st Century Makers Economy

By CREDC President, Mike Bomar

Clark County’s strong past can help propel us into a healthy economic future; but not without our key initiatives in place

Healthcare is to the 21st Century as the automobile was to the last one. Advancements in medical devices and pharmaceuticals, combined with our increased computational capacity, have launched an era of tremendous opportunity for improved health outcomes. The concepts of both individualized and customized treatment, along with new technologies to reduce aging and cure diseases, are quickly becoming a reality. What does this mean for Clark County?

A blog from The Economist made the case, “Why nurses are the new auto workers.” While I believe that nurses will continue to be a key part of healthcare delivery, the movement of care from mainly hospitals and clinics to more care at home, combined with cost-cutting and wage pressures in the health system, will mean demand for new skill sets. As healthcare is a significant and critical piece of our local economy, it is essential that we understand the changing environment and position our healthcare professionals, and our economy as a whole, to be successful moving forward. We can also play an important role in making the devices that transform the way we experience care.

Clark County has a long and strong history of healthcare, manufacturing and trade. From the Hudson’s Bay Company and Mother Joseph to the Kaiser Shipyards, our legacy industries have molded us into a caring and globally-connected community that knows how to build things. Generations of framers, welders, electricians and machinists, combined with our strength in the healthcare and high tech sectors, allow us to showcase a robust workforce that can adapt as manufacturing changes in the diverse economy we enjoy today. We will continue to build great big things as we have for more than a century, but we also have an opportunity to thrive in the manufacture of increasingly smaller and more complex products. The key to our success will be playing off our historical strengths, connecting our education system (K-20) to the manufacturing industry in a way that shows promising pathways for our youth, and building the necessary infrastructure to meet the needs of today’s employers.

The diverse worlds of healthcare, manufacturing and high tech are increasingly demanding a common set of essential skills. Those seeking the careers of tomorrow will need to be personable and professional, but also creative and technically proficient. To be successful, we must meet the systemic needs of our employers. At a recent life sciences startup symposium at OHSU, an audience member asked me a great question: “Where do we go when we need more than just PhDs?” If we truly want to grow and retain our local companies and talent, we need to train an army of researchers, entrepreneurs, managers and makers to meet the needs of each stage of business growth.

Partners like WSU Vancouver and Clark College have done great work in both meeting student demand and also offering the degree programs most needed by our employers. We also have an amazing K-12 system with strong community support that is increasingly connected to employers. This allows our children to learn about the career opportunities close to home, while obtaining the education and skills needed to thrive where they have their roots. While more work is needed, silos are beginning to break down between public, private, education and nonprofit institutions in a way that will be attractive to both new employers and existing companies seeking growth.

The CREDC has successfully assisted three manufacturing companies in relocating to Clark County so far this year and is currently working with 10 more considering relocation to the area. If we preserve (or enhance) our global competitiveness on energy rates and reliability and we combine that with a skilled and adaptive workforce, we will be able to meet the needs of not only these companies, but many more to come.