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News / Business / Clark County Business

Clark County Council discusses economic development, workforce

Vancouver nonprofit provides funding to groups offering job services, delivers report to council

By Shari Phiel, Columbian staff writer
Published: July 12, 2023, 6:27pm

Clark County’s economic development future will depend on the availability of trained and skilled workers to replace the Interstate 5 Bridge or create the Waterfront Gateway project.

The county already has a community partner, Workforce Southwest Washington, working to make sure there are enough workers to meet the demand, according to Marnie Farness, director of programs for the nonprofit.

“Companies need workers and workers need jobs, they need companies. That’s not a surprise to anybody,” Farness said during a presentation before the Clark County Council on Wednesday.

Farness was at the council meeting to review the services, programs and training the Vancouver-based nonprofit provides directly and indirectly.

“Since 2002, we have spent over $126 million in supporting businesses … and to train workers and also to train workers to secure jobs in our community,” Farness told the council.

Workforce Southwest Washington, known as WSW, gives funds to community-based organizations, nonprofits and others to provide job services and training to youths and adults. Much of the organization’s work is done through partnerships with businesses, especially those within the construction, health care, manufacturing and technology industries.

Farness said working with local businesses helps ensure those businesses can hire, develop and invest in skilled workers. She said WSW also partners with economic development groups, education, labor, government, nonprofits and community organizations.

“You’ve got all of these pieces out there working toward a similar aim. Our role in this is to convene, to collaborate, to strategize and bring some order to all of that,” Farness said.

Funding for WSW primarily comes from federal and state grants and allocations, Farness said, although the group does receive some funding from local government and private donors.

“We take those dollars and we pour them into the community, primarily through the Worksource center, Next youth center, community organizations and higher education partners,” Farness said.

In addition to providing funding to help job-seekers, Farness said economic development remains a primary focus for WSW.

“Workforce development plays a huge role, as we know, in economic development. Things don’t just fall into place by chance. It really takes people behind the scenes working and strategizing, partnering and planning and analyzing.”

Through its partnerships, WSW can identify hiring trends and needs and skill shortages which can be used to prepare future workers, Farness said. WSW also provides support to businesses to develop pre-apprenticeship, apprenticeship, on-the-job training, incumbent worker training, internships, and other earn-and-learn models.

Councilor Sue Marshall said she wants to ensure the local community benefits from bigger projects like the I-5 Bridge. Marshall said when she was assigned to work on Workforce Development Council, she knew little about workforce development.

“I have come to learn it’s a tremendous resource. Economic development is something that this council, I think we all agree, is what we want and the workforce is a fundamental component of it. So the work you do is really appreciated,” Marshall said.

Councilor Gary Medvigy said there are development regulations for the railroad “sitting in abeyance for the last five years” preventing some of that economic development. While he said he hopes the council will soon resolve those regulations, he wanted to know how WSW could assess the workforce in the meantime.

“We don’t know what businesses we will attract. Assuming we move forward with alacrity in adopting those (regulations), what does your organization do to assess … what skills we may be short of?” he asked.

Darcy Hoffman, director of business services for WSW, said they’re using a model from the Portland workforce group to model the bridge replacement project and suggested a similar methodology for the rail assessment.

“We’re starting with the supply and really digging into who our supply is in this region. Once we have a better understanding of who the supply is, then we’ll move on to trying to better understand what the demand is for the jobs,” Hoffman said.

Once those elements are better defined, Hoffman said WSW will be able to determine the strengths in the region and the gaps to fill.

On the web

To watch the full presentation, go to https://clark.wa.gov/councilors/clark-county-council-meetings.

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