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Need is clear for Everett engineering campus

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By Mike Benbow
Herald columnist
We don't talk about manufacturing much in the media and anywhere else because — let's face it — factories can be boring and usually are.
But we'd better start talking more about it because manufacturing jobs pay well, and you can never have too many good-paying jobs.
So that's why — at 7 a.m. last Friday morning — I was slurping down some coffee and waiting for a talk to begin with the not so scintillating title of the “State of Manufacturing in Washington.”
I'm glad I went.
I came away feeling much stronger in my belief that we need to do more in Snohomish County to help our manufacturers. I'm not talking about a bunch of giveaways that seem to be all the rage, like all the deals South Carolina struck to lure the Boeing Co. to make 787s there.
And I'm not really talking about government tax breaks. There are a lot of those already in Washington state. It wasn't so long ago that we offered Boeing $3.2 billion in incentives to get the first 787 assembly line.
No, what I'm talking about is something that's in short supply, especially in the aerospace industry but also among other manufacturers such as Everett's Fluke Corp. I feel very strongly that we need to set up a partnership with Washington State University that will lead to a branch campus in Everett that produces engineers and other educated workers.
The title notwithstanding, John Vicklund from Impact Washington provided a lot of interesting information in his manufacturing report last week. He shared the results of a study conducted last fall during the election period of key executives at manufacturers around Washington.
It found that they care most about the cost of health care, government taxes and policies, the financial stability of their customers, the quality of the state's education system and how its preparing students for the workforce.
That's not a huge surprise.
In Snohomish County we've been trying to get a branch campus in Everett for probably 15 years to provide the training that our community colleges can't. Vicklund, who has worked at Eldec and other local manufacturers, was on the task force that ultimately selected a Bothell location for the University of Washington's branch campus.
“They said they wanted it there because the population was moving that way,” Vicklund said of UW.
Asked if Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson should pursue his plan for a WSU branch campus, Vicklund said: “I see the need for a four-year institution in Snohomish County. There are parochial and political debates between the UW and WSU, but I say, ‘OK, if the UW doesn't want to bring a branch campus, how about somebody else?' We need to take a concerted look at how to meet the education needs of the community, and we will not get there by debating who gets to do it. I think it's a good thing if (WSU president Elson) Floyd thinks he can pull it off.”
Earlier in the week, Floyd had sent out a letter to state lawmakers and others in government saying that the higher education community had been trying to figure out the best way to serve the Everett/Snohomish County area.
He noted that WSU's mandate is to “expand the teaching of agriculture, science and engineering through the state in response to business demands.”
He also noted that UW had “relinquished its interest in having a larger presence in Everett.”
I talked about that last week with Connie Niva, a former Everett City Council member, former state Transportation Commission member and former Port of Everett commissioner who is also a WSU regent.
She noted that engineers are highly important for larger companies like Boeing and Fluke but also for smaller manufacturers, too.
She said the trustees talked over Everett's need at a retreat last year, when was their chairman.
“Our mission is to provide the training and education that fits in a certain city,” she said. “Snohomish County is not only lacking a four-year presence but also an engineering program. It fits the need of this area.”
She noted that Boeing hasn't requested WSU to step in.
But its needs are obvious, she added.
Boeing is trying to hire engineers from around the world. It expects many to retire in the next few years as baby boomers reach that age.
“Boeing is keeping its engineering force here,” Niva said. “They can hire them all. Keeping Boeing here is a huge factor. A huge factor.”
I agree.
It's time to dump the politics and come up with a plan that allows our children to stay at home and get university degrees that will provide them with high paying jobs.
Vicklund noted that engineering and related science and technical education programs are in relatively short supply because they're more expensive to teach than, say, English.
“Ask someone in aerospace if they're able to find qualified workers and they say it's very difficult, that they are getting lots of resumes and none of them fit,” he said. “It's a disconnect. Skilled workers are a challenge.”
We've been talking about improving the educational offerings in the county for a long time. It's time to stop talking about it and get something done.
It's one of the most important things we can do to keep good jobs in our back yard.
Mike Benbow: 425-339-3459;



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