The loss of American manufacturing jobs to cheap-labor foreign countries is a common and contentious topic this election year. But some national efforts to keep those jobs in the U.S.A. might be flying under the political radar, including one especially popular here.
43 Clark County manufacturers are benefiting from a federally financed program called Make it in Washington (makeitinwashington.org).
The program is part of the Make it in America program, created in 2013 by Congress and President Obama. Ten states were initially selected, including Washington, where 31 of 39 counties qualified to participate. Clark County is the most populous of the 31 and has by far the most manufacturers in the program.
Unlike efforts to help the unemployed get retrained for new careers, Make it in Washington focuses on existing manufacturing companies. The aim is to help key employees advance their careers and help their employers increase manufacturing capacity, strengthen supply chains, attract investment and create new opportunities for expanding markets and developing new jobs.
Make it in America was designed chiefly to help small manufacturers in rural and distressed areas thrive and grow, but because Clark County met the criteria in 2012 and was selected, Vancouver manufacturers and their employees are eligible.
Three ways to help
Make it in Washington serves manufacturers in three ways:
1. Providing key employees with tuition-funded, online, community college, undergraduate and graduate courses, such as purchasing, logistics and supply-chain management, international trade, supplier relations and contract management. This education component of Make it in Washington is run by the state’s Workforce Training & Education Coordinating Board in Olympia – “Workforce Board,” for short. (For more information, visit wtb.wa.gov or email firstname.lastname@example.org)
2. Offering business assessments from the nonprofit, non-governmental Impact Washington. Its experts visit manufacturers and offer training and consulting to help manufacturers become more globally competitive. (For more information, visit impactwashington.org or email email@example.com)
3. Providing more in-depth analysis and recommendations for manufacturers by the Innovate Washington Foundation with support from the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Lab. (For more information, visit innovatewashington.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org)
Make it in Washington was financed through September 2017 by $1.3 million from the U.S. Department of Labor to the Workforce Board; $750,000 from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to the nonprofit Innovate Washington Foundation in Spokane; and $375,000 from the National Institutes of Standards and Technology to Impact Washington, a Bothell-based nonprofit that provides technical support to existing manufacturers.
“People are surprised to learn who is manufacturing in their back yard,” said Marina Parr, communications director of the Workforce Board.
Among the Clark County manufacturers taking advantage of the program are Columbia Machine of Vancouver, with 510 employees, and Trail Tech in Battle Ground, with 55 employees. Columbia Machine’s products include concrete-block-making machines and palletizing machinery. Trail Tech makes power sport accessories such as gauges, fan kits and radiator guards for all-terrain vehicles, motorcycles, etc.
Both those businesses were scheduled for on-site visits July 13 as part of Make it in Washington’s quarterly outreach meeting in Vancouver with local business leaders, including some from the Vancouver Chamber of Commerce and the Columbia River Economic Development Council.
Providing new perspectives
Jacob Zabel, a 2001 Washougal High School graduate with two years at Clark College under his belt, has worked at Columbia Machine for 10 years. He’s one of six company employees taking online-instruction originating from Washington State University’s Engineering and Technology Management program in Pullman.
Highline and Shoreline community colleges near Seattle also provide online courses to Make it in Washington students.
Zabel, who needs one more WSU class to finish his online program, said the Make it in Washington program “has given us full knowledge of the inner workings of all phases of manufacturing. It covers the full spectrum – supply chain management, manufacturing, inventory, distribution, warehouse, wholesale, retail and the relationships among them all.
“It has given me new perspectives and solidified some of the things I had learned in workshops,” he added, “and it’s a feather in my cap” for possible job promotions.
Make it in Washington students take classes at home on electronic hookups that allow them to be seen and heard by the instructor and other students around the state as they ask questions and contribute to the discussion.
The federal grant that created Make it in Washington expires in fall 2017. The enrollment deadline for this fall’s WSU’s online classes is July 24. The Shoreline and Highline community colleges’ fall deadlines are in September.
Mike Brennan of the state’s Workforce Board said, “This is a great way for businesses to grow their employees into more productive, valuable members of the team, right where they live.”
Here are just a few of the 43 Clark County manufacturers in the Make it in Washington program: Bake Works Inc. (food and beverage manufacturing); Big Blok, LLC (plastics); Charter Controls (machinery and equipment); Columbia Gem House (jewelry and gemstones); Columbia Machine; Green Flush Technologies (wood products); Healers Pet Care, Inc. (apparel); Kreations LLC (fabricated metals, plastics); Max Wood Lumber Co.; Pacific Die Casting; Pedigo Products Inc., (steel medical equipment); Real Axis Machining (fabricated metals); Schurman Machine, Inc. (fabricated metals, wood products, plastics); Silicon Forest Electronics (aerospace); Thompson Metal Fab, Trail Tech; Vancouver Iron and Steel.