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Finalist Tualatin wins $100k grant in America's Best Communities contest

Portland suburb one of eight finalists named at North Carolina summit Wednesday.


This story has been updated from its original version.

AMERICA'S BEST COMMUNITIES COURTESY PHOTO - The Tualatin delegation accepts its $100,000 prize grant as a finalist in the America's Best Communities contest Wednesday.Tualatin's run in the America's Best Communities contest, a nationwide competition in which small towns and rural communities are vying for up to $3 million, will continue after it scored a spot in the finals Wednesday.

Tualatin was one of 15 communities, out of more than 200 original contest entrants, to reach the semifinal round. Judges were impressed by the forceful presentation Tualatin Mayor Lou Ogden gave Wednesday afternoon at the America's Best Communities summit in Durham, N.C., outlining the “revitalization plan” that the Tualatin ABC team devised.

The Tualatin ABC team and the other seven finalists all receive an $100,000 grant to begin putting their revitalization plans into action. Ogden said Tualatin plans to use the money to create a mobile Makerspace, a converted trailer filled with technical equipment to help engage students with STEAM disciplines, an acronym for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.

“We want to make sure that we reach every single student,” Ogden said. “This mobile Makerspace, it will do more than just be an attraction for kids. We will use it to leverage our ongoing work with schools and industry to expand career and technical education.”

With the grant in hand and the city partnering with the Tigard-Tualatin School District, local businesses and other groups, the mobile Makerspace is on track to be ready for the next school year, Ogden said.

The goal of the revitalization plan is reducing the “severe economic disparity” in Tualatin by getting local students, especially girls, youth of color and those from disadvantaged backgrounds, into high-tech and manufacturing jobs, according to Ogden.

“Now, industry in Tualatin also has an issue: there simply aren't enough qualified workers,” Ogden said. “Employers need skilled personnel, while people need quality jobs, creating this ironic dichotomy where jobs are going unfilled yet way too many people are being left underemployed and unemployed.”

Ogden also highlighted community engagement in the plan, saying it has strong support in Tualatin.

“When we asked our local community to raise the $15,000 required for the America's Best Communities match to demonstrate local support, they raised more than $28,000 — from corporations, private donors, youth fundraisers, even a collection at a local church service,” Ogden said.

Tualatin's long-term plan is to build a “community career and creative center” with a permanent Makerspace, classrooms, performing arts spaces and more.

“It will be like a creative preparatory center for both education and higher ed, where kids will develop skills to expand their imagination and their creativity and develop tools they need to succeed in life,” Ogden said.

The first-, second- and third-place finishers in the contest, which will be selected next year, will receive $3 million, $2 million and $1 million respectively.

Ogden traveled to North Carolina for the summit together with John Bartholomew of Mask & Mirror Community Theatre and Bethany Wurtz of the Tualatin Tomorrow Advisory Committee, partners in the Tualatin ABC team.

Ogden had 10 minutes to make his pitch to judges Wednesday. He, Bartholomew and Wertz then fielded questions for about five minutes afterward.

“Our goal is to get in the schools, but also show up at community events, show up at neighborhood events, summer camps — many different opportunities for us to participate,” said Bartholomew, answering a question about how the mobile Makerspace would work in concert with local schools.

The other seven finalists are Chisago Lakes Area, Minn., Valley County/Meadows Valley, Idaho, Statesboro, Ga., Lake Havasu City, Ariz., Madison, Ind., Darrington/Arlington, Wash., and Huntington, W.Va. Tualatin was the last finalist to be announced.

The America's Best Communities contest is cosponsored by Frontier Communications Corp., DISH Network, CoBank and The Weather Channel.

COURTESY ILLUSTRATION - A concept drawing shows what the inside of Tualatin's mobile Makerspace, a trailer packed with computers and other technology equipment, might look like.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misspelled Bethany Wurtz's surname. The story has been updated.


By Mark Miller
Reporter
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