The Association of Washington Businesses kicked off its annual statewide Manufacturing Week bus tour on Wednesday, and this year’s tour started at SEH America in Vancouver.
SEH America, a subsidiary of Tokyo-based Shin-Etsu Handotai Ltd., primarily manufactures silicon wafers for use in semiconductors. The AWB bus arrived early Wednesday morning, decked out with a decal showing the 2019 tour route.
Association president Kris Johnson praised SEH as an example of Clark County’s growing manufacturing sector, which is the fifth largest in the state — Clark County boasts about 13,700 manufacturing jobs out of a statewide total of 287,000.
“That’s a pretty impressive number for Clark County,” he said.
Representatives from the association were given a tour of SEH and an overview of the company’s activities in Vancouver (members of the media were not allowed past the security gate).
According to association and SEH officials, a big part of the conversation focused on the company’s high-school internships and “career launch” program, which are intended to provide the company with a pipeline for skilled workers. Khalid Hassanien, a senior at Union High School, told the association crew about the things he had learned as an intern at SEH.
Talent recruitment is currently a major topic of conversation for manufacturers, Johnson said. In conversations with the association, businesses have said that talent is a concern on par with regulation and taxation.
“SEH is doing some pretty novel things on internships,” Johnson said.
The career launch pilot program debuted last year and is now hosting its second cohort of participants. Career launch interns get paid part-time apprenticeships at SEH paired with tuition assistance for students at Clark College.
The program is also expanding to include similar opportunities at other Clark County tech companies through a consortium called the Southwest Washington High Technology Council. The group includes other big Clark County tech companies such as nLIGHT, WaferTech and Silicon Forest Electronics.
The group recently joined with Clark College to open the Center For Excellence in Clark County, one of eleven state-funded offices that serve as liaisons between community colleges and regional manufacturers.
SEH Training and Development Specialist Natalie Pacholl said community partnerships will be essential to the continued growth of Clark County’s manufacturing sector, and thanked the association for putting on the bus tour to help with those connections.
“One company can’t promote manufacturing by itself,” she said.
The 2019 bus tour marks the third year of the AWB’s manufacturing week tradition, conceived as a way to highlight what the AWB characterizes as a critical yet increasingly overlooked part of the state’s economy.
“This is an industry that doesn’t get a lot of notoriety sometimes,” Johnson said.
Last year’s tour stopped at the Port of Vancouver to check in with Great Western Malting, Hawthorne Gardening and Tidewater Terminal. The businesses on the tour aren’t all big — Johnson said they range from Boeing to two-person operations working out of garages.
After departing SEH, the bus headed north on Interstate 5 on a route that will take it though Woodland, Centralia and the Puget Sound region before heading east.