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DailyTidings.com
  • Bates, Buckley tout technology, education to spur entrepreneurship

    Town hall meeting addresses local economic questions
  • With the economy in recovery, the regional educational system has to get it in gear, learn how to rapidly train local workers in fields desired by employers but also give relevant training to the growing legions of young people who want to start their own businesses — so let's give them, not "accounting," but QuickBooks.
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  • With the economy in recovery, the regional educational system has to get it in gear, learn how to rapidly train local workers in fields desired by employers but also give relevant training to the growing legions of young people who want to start their own businesses — so let's give them, not "accounting," but QuickBooks.
    Such was the drift of a town hall on job creation and workforce readiness hosted by Sen. Alan Bates and Rep. Peter Buckley with a panel including Ron Fox of Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development, Peter Angstadt, president of Rogue Community College and Jim Fong, head of the Southern Oregon Job Council, and others.
    Fox called on education to "build a deeper and more substantive workforce to match the businesses growing here."
    Many college graduates here have moved away, Fong said, only to later realize "the jobs are here."
    RCC, said Angstadt, has created its technology training laboratory that can mesh with the shifting and burgeoning needs of companies here, training workers to fit their needs with three 10-week sessions, landing them jobs up to $45,000 with retirement and profit-sharing.
    Many high schoolers, he said, are earning dual credit with RCC, so they get their high school and community college diplomas on the same weekend.
    The Small Business Center at Southern Oregon University is guiding potential entrepreneurs, one-on-one, with no fee, said its director, Jack Vitacco, in setting up their ventures and creating jobs.
    Heather Stafford, head of Sustainable Valley Technology Group, an independent nonprofit, said two-thirds of high school graduates don't want to land secure slots in corporations, but want to launch their own ventures. However, she added, few are offered relevant startup skills by area schools.
    Interim SOU President Roy Saigo called for a revival of internships, which used to lead 90 percent of participants to careers. However, Fox said liability issues, including Workers Compensation, have made that "essentially prohibitive," especially when balanced against how little interns contribute.
    "They can't even go on the floor" because of liability, said Fong.
    Joan Thorndike, owner of La Mera Gardens nursery in Ashland, agreed, noting "everything we do is dangerous ... and with perishable crops, we don't have time to deal with it."
    In addition, she said, her profit margin is under 2 percent, equipment has to be fixed a lot and it's the "worst pay" in the valley. However, she's getting intelligent, well-trained graduates from SOU's Environmental Education program now.
    What's lacking in graduates in farming, she says, are people who know basic marketing and processing. While the "buy local" movement has helped business, Stafford observed that only 2.1 percent of valley residents' food is locally grown and the rest "comes off a truck and that's not sustainable. We're headed for a fall."
    The regional WISE (Water for Irrigation, Streams and Economy) Program, said Fox, aims at transforming agriculture to grow more food with less water, thus increasing sustainability and jobs in times of economic and climate uncertainty.
    Audience members slammed local education for lack of relevancy in such practical areas as investment, loans, leasing properties and using QuickBooks, with Fong agreeing, "That's spot on. What's missing is that relevant connection to the real world. We need to create a cooperative education model of hands-on learning through K-20. There's a lot of disconnect."
    Thorndike echoed the sentiment, saying she deeply needs mechanics who are trained in real skills and able to keep her farm machinery going and speak Spanish too. She is the only one who can do it at present, she added.
    With SOU and other small state universities shifting to self-governing boards, the school must step up, energize and prove itself over the next 2.5 years or there is legislation already written to take it back under the aegis of the board of the Oregon University System.
    "The deal was," said Buckley, "give us a chance to show what we can do in that time. The president has to re-energize the board to...look forward and control our own future."
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