Community colleges focus on workforce
Skill development, support services bolster economic development
A lot of businesses wish their production and administrative processes were more efficient. In Douglas County, a trio of disparate companies did more than wish—they teamed up with Umpqua Community College and sent their managers and hourly workers back to school.
After identifying the interested companies — a book distributor, a chip hauler and a lumber mill — the college obtained a grant that funded the cost of training, with the businesses contributing their employees’ time.
Community colleges play a critical role in economic development
The six-month program was an intensive on-site and off-site training in the principles of Lean Manufacturing, a set of processes designed to increase efficiency and decrease waste. It was a quality training aimed at improving the productivity of several key businesses in the county, and it couldn’t have happened without the resources of the community college.
“Community colleges play a really critical role in economic development,” says Pete Bober, director of UCC’s Small Business Development Center and Workforce Training. “They are one of the few entities in rural areas that have enough size and substantial resources to bear, and they have a lot of bright people in them.”
Besides developing the skills of county residents through education programs and as-needed instruction for area businesses, community colleges can act as catalysts for regional development.
UCC’s new viticulture and enology program, for example, does a lot more than prepare students for entry into Oregon’s burgeoning wine industry. “It was really created not as an education program but as an economic development initiative,” Bober says.
An economic magnet
By concentrating efforts in the winery-related sector, the program serves as an economic development magnet that draws related business to the area, Bober says. A new campus-based wine-testing lab will employ two or three people. It provides services to local wine growers who previously had to send samples away. An area farm store now carries specialized viticulture equipment. Realtors specializing in vineyard properties are beginning to make an appearance.
“That program is a great example about how a community college in a rural area can have a tremendous impact on skill development, and also an economic impact in the community,” Bober says.