Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Manufacturing rallies in Spokane County

Manufacturing, a legacy industry in so many parts of the country, has been forced to reinvent its business model like so many others to stay competitive. Areas with inexpensive electricity rates, excellent infrastructure/transportation systems, strong regional workforces and favorable tax structures have emerged as major beneficiaries.

For those same reasons, the advanced manufacturing sector is on-the-grow in Spokane County, Wash. Employment increased 18 percent in the sector in during 2010, including more than 1,100 new jobs in the third quarter. The majority of advanced manufacturing firms – those working in chemical, composites, metal, energy and aerospace – employ 20-100 people.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Look for communities investing in workforce training

Specialized skills and workforce training are important to any successful business, large or small. Relocating and expanding businesses often make workforce quality a top priority because everything else becomes moot without it. Communities with a dynamic, demand-driven workforce system prove the best solution for a growing company.

Progressive communities are expanding their training offerings. These programs improve marketability for those just entering the workforce and retrain displaced workers who likely already have considerable skills, but need additional industry-specific training. The result is a better prepared employee for companies.

Voters in three North Idaho school districts recently approved two-year property tax increases to build a $9.5 million professional-technical high school. The Kootenai Technical Education Campus is a partnership between business and industry leaders, local school districts and manufacturers. The school will accommodate 180 students and initially provide specialty training in health occupations, welding, construction and automotive technology when it opens in 2013. Curriculum is being developed to expand the instructional offering to include training in hospitality, drafting, manufacturing, and airframe and power plant mechanics.

Those plans follow the opening of the Kalispel Career Training Center in Priest River, Idaho. Programs in advanced welding, metal fabrication and culinary arts are available. Additional programs are being developed to address upcoming workforce needs. Program partners include the Kalispel Tribe of Indians, Pend Oreille County Economic Development Council and Public Utilities District, Seattle City Lights, Cusick School District, Selkirk School District, Newport School District, Community Colleges of Spokane, Washington State University Extension Office, Port of Pend Oreille, Teck, Heater Craft, Work Source, Institute for Extended Learning, and Pend Oreille County.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Retaining strong companies important priority

Taking care of prospering companies is every bit as important as recruiting the next big thing, especially in these days of a “new normal” economy. Regions that can package affordable and available real estate, a talented workforce, and a reasonable regulatory environment in a supportive business climate have a leg up on their competition.

Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories (SEL) has found that in the Inland Northwest. The homegrown power protection industry leader is growing in its own backyard. Work is underway on a new 105,800-square-foot, mixed-use engineering office and manufacturing facility in Lewiston, Idaho. The site-cast concrete tilt-up building is being constructed on 25 acres in the Lewiston Business Technology Park, just across the state line from SEL’s corporate headquarters in Pullman, Wash. SEL is also planning a new 70,000-square-foot Solution Delivery Center in Pullman. The three-story building will include six customer-training rooms, conference rooms and engineering and research space.

SEL, which creates products that minimize blackouts and electrical damage, is part of a major federal Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project. The company benefits from its proximity to Washington State University and the University of Idaho, located eight miles apart in Pullman and Lewiston, respectively. Both have strong engineering schools, and WSU graduates have been ranked by the Wall Street Journal among the Top 25 most sought after by corporate recruiters.