By editorial board • 

Workforce development key to fostering economic vitality

The sexy side of economic development is beating a bevy of rivals to land a new anchor industry — the kind not only becoming a rich new source of family-wage jobs, but also drawing an array of suppliers to the city over time, sending a second wave of economic benefit coursing through the economy.

By comparison, the workforce development segment is a long, slow slog — one that tends to go greatly underappreciated. However, in the end, there is no greater incentive a community can extend to a prospective employer than a highly trained and qualified workforce.

That situation is particularly true of a city like McMinnville, which not only lacks the deep pockets of the cash-incentive crowd, but also the kind of high-speed, high-volume road, rail and air transportation industry tends to covet.

We have other weapons in our arsenal, of course. They include a well-established industrial park featuring numerous core tenants and the land, buildings, zoning and infrastructure to accommodate more.

But several communities can stake that claim. Our competitive edge lies in a willing and able workforce, which key competitors often lack.

Fortunately, the leading local force in the field, the McMinnville Economic Development Partnership, took note early on. It launched its McMinnville Works program in the summer of 2014 and has been building it ever since.

The idea was to combine paid internships at local industries with an intensive skill-development program. Eight partners hosted 21 interns that first summer, and virtually all were able to transition into high-paying jobs as a result.

To give credit where it’s due, MEDP’s celebrated program was inspired by partners in the Newberg area, particularly CLIMAX Portable.

In a fall 2017 assessment, then-director Jody Christensen said, “We believe that our workforce situation in Oregon, in McMinnville and in the nation is at a critical point. Businesses can’t find people, they can’t fill positions. So we believe that by having an internship program like this, we’re growing our own workforce.”

Salem-based Chemeketa Community College, which operates a branch campus in McMinnville, subsequently began a companion Chemeketa Works  program based on the model enhanced by MEDP.

Under the leadership of Christensen’s successor, Scott Cooper, MEDP announced creation of a new Career Bound Pathways program last month. It is aimed at connecting recent high school grads with local companies capable of placing them on promising career paths.

Grads not pursuing additional training or education often become mired in low-paying, dead-end jobs, thus becoming drags on the economy and social services network. Giving them a chance to develop skills that industry desperately needs promises to pay dividends all the way around — to the young beneficiaries, to the companies willing to mentor them and to the community at large.

The pilot program is beginning this summer with half a dozen employers, thanks to grants from the Ford Family Foundation and Oregon Community Foundation. Representatives of OnlineNW, McMinnville Water & Light, Fackler Construction, Recology Western Oregon, Solid Form Fabrication and Organic Valley are serving on the steering committee.

If Career Bound Pathways proves as successful as McMinnville Works, we’ll all reap the benefits.

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