Clark County is now home to Washington’s newest Center of Excellence, a state office that operates pipeline programs aimed at connecting students with job training.
The local office is known as the Center of Excellence for Semiconductors & Electronic Manufacturing.
It’s the 11th office of its type in the state. The centers were created by the state Board for Community and Technical Colleges in 2004. They’re intended to serve as liaisons between local schools and industries, providing career opportunities for students and helping industries maintain skilled workforces.
Each center is built around an industry that plays a major role in the local economy, such as a clean energy center at Centralia College and a marine manufacturing and technology center at Skagit Valley College.
The new Clark County center focuses on semiconductors and electronics, due to the presence of several big electronics companies such as silicon wafer manufacturer SEH America, a subsidiary of Tokyo-based Shin-Etsu Handotai Ltd.
“We have an electronic and semiconductor hub here in Southwest Washington that we’d like to support,” said Mohammed Maraee, the new center’s associate director. Maraee lives in Vancouver and previously worked for the Oregon Manufacturing Innovation Center, as well as teaching business administration at Portland Community College.
The Clark County center is described as operating under the leadership of an existing center at Everett Community College that focuses on aerospace and advanced manufacturing. It has a primary office at the main Educational Service District 112 building and a satellite office at Clark College, Maraee said.
The new center is funded by $300,000 allocated by the state legislature in the 2019-21 budget. Its partners include Clark College, local K-12 schools and the Southwest Washington High Technology Council.
The council is made up of representatives from several high-tech companies that are either headquartered or have a significant presence in Clark County, including SEH America, nLIGHT, WaferTech and Silicon Forest Electronics. The group was at the center of the legislative effort to secure funding for the new center.
The group is chaired by Ben Bagherpour, vice president of site services and government affairs at SEH America, who also serves a member of the Board for Community and Technical Colleges.
“The (High Technology Council) is pleased to now have a single point of contact that we can reach out to,” Bagherpour said in a statement. “The associate director will be our point person to understand high-tech manufacturing companies’ workforce and education needs and to work with the K-12 and higher education systems to develop and align programs to meet these needs.”
SEH America has been involved in previous local pipeline efforts aimed at addressing concerns about attracting and retaining a skilled technical workforce. Last year, the company launched a pilot program called career launch, offering participants paid part-time apprenticeships at SEH paired with tuition assistance for students at Clark College.
The program is expanding for the 2019-2020 school year, Bagherpour said, and will now include similar opportunities at some of the other council companies. It will also be incorporated into the new center and further developed along with future programs as the center continues to grow.