By editorial board • 

Industrial job incubation a legacy worth emulating

All jobs are not created equal, and the magnitude of prevailing pay is not the only measure. A strong economy needs family-wage jobs from industrial operations like Meggitt, Freelin-Wade and Cascade Steel, among many local employers. Real payoff comes in enterprises applying the cutting-edge scientific research to development of revolutionary applications, and the UAV industry — unmanned aerial vehicles — has that potential.

High-tech startups often are incubated by college science, math and engineering labs, and/or highly entrepreneurial electronics giants. Such pairings can prove particularly powerful, and McMinnville was blessed with one during the 25-year marriage between Linfield College and Hewlett-Packard which produced an almost magical variety of cutting-edge spinoffs.

It began when Walt Dyke, a 1938 graduate of Linfield’s physics department, returned to found the Linfield Research Institute in 1955. Son of a pair of Linfield grads, he had earned his Ph.D. at the University of Washington, then spent World War II conducting radar research at MIT.

In the process, he became a leading figure in field emissions technology, foundation for portable X-ray machines, electronic microscopes and myriad other scientific and medical devices. With the help of colleagues like Linfield physics prof Win Dolan, his first recruit, he proceeded to put Mac on the map.

LRI spun off Field Emissions Corp., known as FEMCOR, in 1958. Dyke was joined in the venture by Linfield physics profs Lyn Swanson and Francis Charbonnier, among others.

Hewlett-Packard swallowed FEMCOR in 1971 to create a Diagnostic Cardiology Division based on field emissions applications, evolving into other H-P product lines. Ironically, the complex it developed around the original FEMCOR site reverted to Linfield when the H-P division closed in 1996, becoming the college’s Keck Campus.

Several Linfield scientists, including Charbonnier, remained with H-P. Others, led by Lyn Swanson, Noel Martin and Lloyd Swenson, launched a new field emissions spinoff — Field Electron and Ion, known as FEI.

When H-P pulled out in 1996, most of its engineers joined its medical products operation in Massachusetts, home to Harvard and MIT. But a core group seized the opportunity to launch new niche enterprises locally: Neal Andrews and Steve Cooper, Andrews-Cooper Technology; Patti White, Peter Galen, David Starr and Alan Andresen, Pangea Medical, morphing into Inovise; Noel Martin, Martin Innovative Technology; and Tim Beevers, Beevers Manufacture & Supply with his wife, Kate. Meanwhile, a pair of Linfield grads with LRI and FEI roots, Bill Mackie and Gary Cabe, gave birth to Applied Physics Technologies in 1995.

If there is any way to replicate that kind of economic development in a new form, the payoff would be powerful. The most likely vehicle on the horizon appears to be the nascent UAV or drone industry, and with the precision agriculture revolution it promises to spawn.

That justifies the county’s push to develop a hub here, building on the combination of an existing enterprise in Northwest UAV, the proximity of collaborators in the Columbia Gorge and Seattle, the legacy of Evergreen International Aviation’s local UAV work, and specialized winery and nursery industries uniquely qualified to benefit.

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