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Creating a thriving workforce, economy and community

Chamber's economic summit provides insight into partnerships for future workers


The good news is that the employment rate in East Multnomah County is rebounding after years of decline. The bad news is that area employers are having difficulty finding trained workers to replace the baby boomers who are retiring.

So how can industry, local governments and schools support each other to create a “Thriving Workforce, Thriving Economy and Thriving Communities”?

That was the question city leaders, business owners and local education administrators were addressing Thursday, Oct. 2, when the Gresham Area Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center hosted their 15th annual Economic Summit.

Over breakfast at Persimmon Country Club, attendees got a glimpse into the collaborations being formed to bolster East County’s lagging high school graduation rates and support businesses in need of trained workers.

John Horvick, vice president and director of research with the Portland-based research firm Davis, Hibbitts and Midghall Inc., presented findings from a survey the company conducted in early September.

More than 600 people in Washington, Multnomah, Clackamas and Marion counties were asked to prioritize what they felt were important economic issues, both statewide and within their communities.

The company then narrowed the findings to reflect exactly where East County landed when it came to important issues such as education and family-wage employment.

Statistics showed that East Multnomah County residents earn less annually than folks west of 82nd Avenue (22 percent) and the percentage of those holding bachelor’s degrees or higher was significantly lower as well (19.1 percent in East County versus 35 percent for the rest of Multnomah County).

Debra Derr, president of Mt. Hood Community College, opened a panel discussion by explaining how the college is working to help students achieve a post-secondary education.

Derr said MHCC is partnering with local school districts to build a culture where college is an option for students by introducing them to college-level courses while they’re still in high school.

“We are finding their chances of going on to college are better and they do better if they have that option,” Derr said. “We need to do more to make sure students can get those dual credits.”

Derr went on to say that MHCC is also listening to area employers to determine how the college can prepare students to be job and career ready for the future.

“We are taking that information to revamp our curriculum so our training and classes meet their skill needs,” she said.

Sam Breyer, superintendent of the Centennial School District, agreed with Derr, citing the success of partnerships with local businesses and the college that have created vocational training classes at the Center for Advanced Learning.

“We’re seeing a lot of students coming out of those programs and going directly into the workforce,” Breyer said.

But education is a community affair, said Mark Lewis, STEM director for the state of Oregon, and shouldn’t be laid solely at the feet of those with teaching certifications. When industry opens its doors to job shadow and internship opportunities for students, that alliance builds a foundation for tomorrow’s workforce.

“We have to be adaptable to the changing workforce,” Lewis said. ‘We need to concentrate on skills, not content.”

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