Derek Kilmer, U.S. representative for the 6th Congressional District, continued a decade-old conversation recently with local stakeholders about finding innovation in the local workforce.
More than a dozen representatives from Port Angeles to Port Townsend met with the congressman to discuss the Innovation Agenda at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory on Aug. 18.
Kilmer said congressmen spoke nationwide with constituents about 10 years ago on a range of topics from STEM education to bringing broadband to rural locations to providing tools for small businesses.
“While jobs aren’t created in large marble buildings in Washington, D.C., I think what government does and doesn’t do has an impact on our ability to grow jobs and grow innovation,” Kilmer said.
Joe Dacca, district director for Kilmer’s office, said similar events were recently held by Democratic Members of Congress, and that the ideas and feedback will contribute to a comprehensive innovation agenda to help economic opportunity and job creation.
The major issue stakeholders discussed was finding solutions for developing a skilled workforce locally.
Representatives from Peninsula College, City of Sequim, Sequim School District and other entities mentioned this as a key struggle.
David Walter, chairman of the board for the Composites Recycling Technology Center, said they likely won’t be draw from the Olympic Peninsula to hire.
“We want to,” Walter said. “As we scale up, we’ll need more technical people. I’d love to see more bachelor’s programs at Peninsula College.”
Bob Larsen, CEO for the composites center, echoed this saying they’ll likely be bringing in staff from the I-5 corridor, but he wants to build relationships with educational facilities for future hires.
Sequim School District Superintendent Gary Neal said they continue to lose doctors and other younger professionals because they can’t pass a bond to improve deteriorating facilities and due to restrictive federal policies.
“The way I’d make change is to change policy,” Neal said. “Unless policy is changed, we’re trapped.”
The group came to a few solutions to potentially benefit local students and businesses.
Neal said he and Charlie Brandt, director of the Sequim PNNL coastal science division, will continue to seek out opportunities for K-12 students to connect with the laboratory.
Stakeholders also want to begin developing a program for students to participate in a work study/internship with local businesses, similar to Running Start at Peninsula College. The project would be for high school juniors and seniors to take college courses but also bring them to career and technical education opportunities.
They also discussed support for Kilmer’s proposed legislation allowing Pell Grant financial assistance to cover school costs year round so students can finish programs more in the summer, too.
The group discussed a number of other issues such as lack of broadband Internet in the West End, establishing certain services such as barge services, and more.
“(With) broadband and other sorts of infrastructure, it’s the great leveler,” Peninsula College president Luke Robins said.
“From an education standpoint, a student who doesn’t have access to broadband, is an academically disadvantaged student.”
Others felt local leaders need to take a new approach, too.
“We’ve got to start thinking outside the box,” Larsen said. “It’s pretty clear traditional approaches to economic development aren’t working. We need to try to get a different approach.”
Sequim Mayor Dennis Smith said he felt good about the meeting and he’s hopeful for another one with the group.
“The fact is we’re an island and (U.S. Highway 101) is it (for access),” Smith said. “We have to find a way to get people here and their customers here.”
He added that the meeting reinforced that there is “a lot of superior intelligence in this community that is untapped for internships and mentorships which is beneficial for the community.”
For the meeting, Dacca said stakeholders were selected based on input from PNNL, local chamber of commerces and economic development councils, local leaders, and Kilmer’s outreach.
Other participants included: Sue Hagener, administrative services director, City of Sequim; Judy Johnson, CFO Shine Micro Inc.; Jennifer States, vice-president of external affairs for the Composites Recycling Technology Center and director of business development for the Port of Port Angeles; Jennifer Linde, Director of Operations & Finance of Clallam County Economic Development Center; Peter Quinn, executive director EDC Team Jefferson; Brian Kuh, deputy director EDC Team Jefferson, and Jascha Gulden, founder and CEO Reliance Laboratories, Jamestown Networks.