Economic team says trips to OMIC prototype in England are important for relationship building

Local leaders are traveling to the U.K. to get a sense of what's to come in Columbia County.

November 2017 marked the third trip taken by elected officials and economic stakeholders to Sheffield, England, to visit the prototype for the Oregon Manufacturing Innovation Center in Scappoose.

"I went expecting to be really impressed," Scappoose City Councilor Mark Reed said of his visit to the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre. "What I did not expect was to just be blown away. They took 400 acres of what we would call a superfund site and in 12 short years, turned it into a business park that is world class."SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Scappoose City Councilor Mark Reed gives a presentation to councilors in December after returning from a trip to Sheffield, England, to tour the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre.

Expense records show the most recent trip cost the city of Scappoose $2,170. Columbia River PUD paid $2,235 for Director Debbie Reed to attend on the utility district's behalf, and the city of Clatskanie paid $1,622 to send its city manager, Greg Hinkelman.

Debbie Reed and Mark Reed are married, and traveled together, but Mark Reed says he didn't initially intend to take the trip.

"The city asked me to go," Councilor Reed said last month, noting that he was able to share lodging expenses with his wife.

PHOTO COURTESY OF SCOTT BURGE - A photo taken during a 2016 trip to the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre in Sheffiled, England shows a multi-level building full of robotics and engineering activity.Since the announcement in 2016 that Columbia County was, in fact, going to be the newest location for a manufacturing research center, local leaders have made three trips to Sheffield to tour the AMRC.

Chuck Daughtry, executive director of the Columbia County Economic Team, said visiting AMRC allows stakeholders to really see first-hand what the vision is here, and what kinds of other businesses could complement OMIC.Daughtry

"We need local entities involved in helping get these things sped up," Daughtry said of new partnerships and beefed up business interest in Columbia County.

AMRC serves as the model for OMIC, hosting paid student apprentices who help engineer solutions to the manufacturing industry's biggest problems.

The maiden voyage to Sheffield took place in early 2016, with Scappoose Mayor Scott Burge and Sen. Betsy Johnson, D—Scappoose, along with leaders from Business Oregon touring the AMRC. Afterward, Burge and Johnson returned eager to share a vision for what was, at the time, a hopeful replica of the AMRC in Columbia County.

Just two months afterward in early spring 2016, Portland Community College announced $7.5 million in state funding had been secured for a manufacturing research center in Columbia County. By October, Oregon Institute of Technology announced its purchase of a building in Scappoose.

The following year, seven corporations had signed partnership agreements — paid contracts — to participate in the collaborative research and development center.

In the midst of rapid movement on OMIC, Daughtry, along with a representative from the Port of St. Helens and others, visited the England-based site.

Daughtry recommended another handful of local leaders visit Sheffield last fall.

Daughtry said despite OMIC's success thus far, there's still a lot of work to be done.

"We're building networks and relationships with stakeholders in Sheffield," Daughtry said. "We encourage the stakeholders of various entities to at least once, go to Sheffield, which is kind of like the North Star of what we're trying to do with OMIC."

Along with the Reeds and Hinkelman, a representative from Vancouver, Wash. went representing a regional economic consortium.

Nearly all of the partnership agreements and funding secured thus far has been through OIT, Boeing, Johnson, and on referral from AMRC, but having representatives from the Port of St. Helens, as well as the PUD and other agencies, is vital to helping OMIC successfully build its presence here, Daughtry noted.

"We need to get this here," Councilor Mark Reed said in December, having just returned from Sheffield.

Earlier this month, OIT announced it received a $300,000 donation from the DeArmond Public Foundation, to support the first round of paid schol-

arships and internships at OMIC.

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