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Lane County, Oregon: Technology Partnership

Elizabeth Sobel Blum

July 2018

About the Next Generation Sector Partnership Model

Next Generation Sector Partnerships are regional collaborations of businesses, from the same industry and in a shared labor market region, that work with education, workforce development, economic development and community organizations to address workforce and other pressing competitiveness needs of a target industry. While the concept of public-private partnerships or even workforce sector partnerships is not unique, Next Generation Sector Partnerships are distinct in three ways: 1) they are industry-driven; 2) they are community supported; and 3) they are comprehensively focused on workforce and economic development. Partnerships launch when industry leaders in one geographic region (such as Lane County, Oregon) come together to identify their biggest shared opportunities for growth, then prioritize the most important requirements to capitalize on those opportunities. In response, educators, workforce boards, chambers of commerce, community-based organizations and others coordinate with each other and partner with the industry to address these requirements.

The Next Generation Sector Partnership model strongly reflects an “open-source” approach to workforce and economic development. No individual person or organization owns it—industry sector business leaders own it with their community partners. Partnerships act as an operating system by serving as a platform for discourse, analysis, decision-making, coordination and innovation for the benefit of industry, the regional economy that hosts it and the jobseekers and workers who reside in the community. A notable example of this exists in Lane County, Oregon, where the local workforce development board balances the role of brokering its industry sector partnerships without owning or charting their course.

While it may be counterintuitive to some that industry leaders would work with their competitors, they come to the table because they recognize that some of the industry’s most important requirements for growth and competitiveness span the region and their industry, and issues cannot be resolved independently. For more information about the model, see the Next Generation Sector Partnerships website and the publication “Regional Talent Pipelines: Collaborating with Industry to Build Opportunities in Texas” by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas and Center for Public Policy Priorities.

About Lane County, Oregon

Lane Workforce Partnership (LWP) is Lane County’s local workforce development board, a nonprofit organization. Among its many responsibilities, it facilitates the Lane County Sector Strategy Team (LCSST), a group of regional workforce development, education (K-12 and higher education), economic development, local city administration and business champions that meet regularly to jointly respond to the needs and opportunities of their region’s most critical industries. The team is responsible for coming to shared agreement on which industries warrant their coordinated attention and how they will coordinate active industry-led sector partnerships. It is through these sector partnerships that the strategy team is able to focus on issues that have been brought forth by industry that will lead to industry growth and jobs for community members. Distinct from past “sectoral-focused” efforts, the strategy team purposely facilitates its sector partnerships to focus on more than just workforce issues. As a result, their combined efforts often tackle infrastructure needs, community development opportunities and economic development initiatives, in addition to short- and long-term education requirements.

The LCSST makes its decisions based on labor market information and open discourse about which industries are most ready to self-organize into a sector partnership. Its current focus is on four sectors: technology, construction aggregate, food and beverage, and wood products. This report focuses on the technology partnership—Lane County Tech Collaborative—because it is the region’s most mature partnership.

Lane County Tech Collaborative

Lane County is home to over 400 technology companies, which employ 4,418 people, bringing over $329 million dollars in wages to the area. The tech sector in Lane County is projected to grow by 1,185 jobs by the year 2024, and an additional 793 jobs will need to be replaced by that time.[1] The average annual wage of tech workers in Lane County is also notable at $74,000—significantly higher than the county’s annual average wage of about $41,000.[2] To meet the industry’s demand for skilled workers, it was clear to the workforce development and education communities that they would have to work together to strengthen and grow the local talent pipeline.Economic development partners also realized this was an opportunity to grow the local economy and the area’s high-wage jobs.

In 2015, the LCSST brought C-suite leaders from the local technology industry together. They followed a hallmark script of Next Generation Sector Partnerships, focusing not on challenges and pain points, but instead on the industry’s shared opportunities for expansion and the necessary collective actions to ensure the stability and growth of the industry in Lane County. From that meeting of tech leaders, the Lane County Tech Collaborative was launched. It quickly gained attention from the statewide Technology Association of Oregon (TAO). With careful navigation to ensure the collaborative maintained its local focus, the Lane Workforce Partnership brokered a staffing arrangement whereby TAO provides staff support to the now-local (Southern Willamette Valley) chapter of TAO. The collaborative has been busy over the last two years tackling the issues brought to light at the initial industry convening and its quarterly meetings since then. Its main initiatives include:

  • Creating business-driven computer science curriculum in local colleges
    The University of Oregon computer technology head professor, Joe Sventek, is a member of the Tech Collaborative and TAO and works side by side with businesses to ensure curriculum taught at the university is in line with industry needs.
  • Improving the quality of K-12 education
    According to Kristine Payne, executive director of Lane Workforce Partnership, Elevate Lane County is the most ambitious school-to-work program ever imagined in Lane County. It has identified four program goals:
    • Create learning opportunities for students in the field.
    • Build educator capacity through summer externships.
    • Construct a robust local technology portal to match profiles.
    • Convene a regional advisory board to inform curriculum.
  • Increasing internet speed and decreasing internet costs in downtown Eugene
    The monthly service price for firms in the Broadway Commerce Center decreased from about $250 for 150-megabit service to $99 for 1,000-megabit service. Acccording to Payne, these changes were driven by the change in internet carriers and competition between them.
  • Improving Eugene/Springfield downtown image and safety
    With the emphasis on downtown safety brought to light by the Tech Collaborative, the Eugene City Council put forth plans for park blocks that will create more usable space, bringing shoppers into the district year round.
  • Improving air travel options in and out of the region
    With the tech companies signing on as regular passengers, a flight to San Jose was established by Alaska Airlines. In December 2017, the Eugene Airport reported having over 1 million passengers—a first in the airport’s history.
  • Branding and marketing Lane County
    Multiple videos and commercials have been created that show the area’s beauty and workforce opportunities. In addition, the region was featured in the Alaska Airlines’ and United Airlines’ magazines. Feature articles in the magazines focuses on the Tech Sector, as well as wood products and area wineries and vineyards.

The Tech Collaborative’s Success So Far

Early in its development, the Tech Collaborative leveraged its influence to move two significant opportunities forward. The first project it tackled was securing a direct flight between Eugene and Silicon Valley, an important hub of technological innovations, investors, entrepreneurs and talent. To be clear, this had been a topic of interest for over a year with local economic development leaders, but it was not until the efforts of over 30 technology CEOs toward its realization that negotiations with Alaska Airlines succeeded. This not only was a major early win for the emerging collaborative, it is also a typical storyline of Next Generation Sector Partnerships. Their ability to leverage the weight of a single voice from many industry leaders can achieve goals that were previously unattainable.

The second issue was securing at-scale broadband. As part of the LCSST, the city of Eugene, Eugene Water & Electric Board and Lane Council of Governments partnered with industry members of the collaborative to help the city get affordable high-speed internet access. They competed against 47 other cities in the Mozilla Foundation’s Gigabit City competition and won. Now, the Eugene community has access to an open-source, publicly owned internet service. It is available at a relatively affordable monthly rate of $99 per month. With the distinction of being Mozilla’s Gigabit City came a $150,000 grant for local initiatives that increase the community’s participation in technology innovations.

These wins were the impetus and momentum the young collaborative needed to tackle the harder issue: building a talent pipeline for local technology companies. The deeper levels of cooperation and coordination needed for success made way for new collaborations related to curriculum and apprenticeships. Here are four specific and powerful outcomes:

  • The 16 independent school districts of Lane County agreed to use the Tech Collaborative/TAO as their shared advisory board for their tech-related programs, a strong statement to the power of a shared table of industry advising (as compared to often duplicative, low-turnout advisory boards for many individual programs). The plan is also to include career technical education (CTE) with the reinvestment in CTE by the state legislature in 2017.
  • Lane Workforce Partnership and the TAO partnered with the Oregon Employment Department and the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries to pilot the first IT Registered Apprenticeship program in the state—“Apprenti”—a new nonunion apprenticeship program developed in Washington state. This pilot project will be developed to scale throughout Oregon. It will support registered apprenticeships in seven IT occupations: database administrator, IT project manager, network and security administrator, web developer, software developer, Windows system administrator and Linux systems administrator.
  • Tech Collaborative industry leaders specified the skills, knowledge and abilities they needed from graduating university students; in response, the University of Oregon Department of Computer and Information Sciences changed some of its curriculum to meet these needs. Included in its curriculum is basic skills training for coding. The industry is now offering paid internships to University of Oregon IT students, and these internships are leading to high-wage jobs.
  • Four public and private organizations jointly funded "Talent Match Tech," a talent match effort. One hundred and ninety-three qualified job seekers had face-to-face time with 19 local tech companies with immediate job openings. More than 50 post-event interviews were conducted.

“We convene, broker, leverage. Next Gen gives us the framework to do this type of work. It helps us identify occupations that we should provide training for. And this is part of a larger body of work that we do with our partners. This gives our partners a way to discuss, prioritize and navigate how to address issues and how to get movement on them. We work together more than we ever did before.”
—Kristina Payne, Executive Director, Lane Workforce Partnership

Tracking and Integrating Success Metrics

LCSST used a dashboard to track its progress for the Tech Collaborative and took needed steps to integrate the metrics with other organizations that focus on the technology sector in the Eugene area. Shared metrics can be a powerful tool to ensure that organizations move in the same direction in coordination versus operating in silos. The following information was tracked:

  • Number of training scholarships awarded
  • Number of on-the-job placements
  • Number of employer outreach activities and services
  • Number of iMatchSkills job listings (iMatchSkills)
  • Technology Association of Oregon’s metrics:
    • Number of students participating in Experience Oregon Tech (in July 2014-June 2015: N/A; by May 3, 2017: 200 students participated)
    • Number of companies engaged (in two years, increased from 25 companies to 59 companies)
  • Regional Accelerator & Innovation Network’s (RAIN Eugene) metrics:
    • Number of companies
    • Additional capital raised by RAIN Eugene companies in the form of grants, equity or debt: increased from $1.86 million in 2015 to $2.10 million by May 3, 2017
    • Full-time employees hired by RAIN Eugene companies
    • Number of students engaged: 96 in program year 2014/2015 to 320 by May 3, 2017
    • Number of companies assisted: 46 in program year 2014/2015 to 104 by May 3, 2017
      • Revenue generated by RAIN Eugene companies: about $298,000 in program year 2014/2015 to $776,000 by May 3, 2017
  • Lane Education Service District’s (K-12 education) metrics:
    • Number of career technical education (CTE) programs
    • Number of high school students engaged in school-to-career events
    • Number of high school educators engaged in professional development efforts:
      • Tech: none in program year 2014/2015 to 12 in 2016/2017

While Next Generation Sector Partnerships like the Lane County Tech Collaborative offer compelling outcomes like those described above, it is often the spinoff outcomes that lean toward real systems change that matter the most. For example, from the education and training side, Kristina Payne notes increased investment, more onsite learning opportunities (internships, on-the-job training, job shadowing, eight-week externships, facility tours, etc.) and a shared level of knowledge about industry that did not exist before. The spinoff on economic expansion is also notable. Between May and August 2016, as a result of the direct flight to San Jose, Travel Lane County (an initiative of the Eugene Chamber of Commerce) secured $302,460 in earned media through Alaska/Horizon Airlines’ and United Airlines’ in-flight magazines that promoted Lane County’s critical industry sectors. In addition, five public and private organizations jointly purchased $110,000 in advertorials for the June and August 2016 issues of Alaska/Horizon Airlines’ in-flight magazines.

“Lane County is a very desirable place for business,” says Payne. “We’re sought out regularly. Now we’re not chasing companies. Because we’re first focused on taking care of the companies that we have here, not just attracting new companies, we see results.” Those results include increased attention on Lane County as a place to do business, which is a direct win for economic development organizations interested in recruitment and expansion endeavors and a clear win for the Eugene community and its residents.

The LCSST is currently replicating the success of the Tech Collaborative in three additional industries: construction aggregate, food and beverage, and wood products. Each will look different from each other but will follow a similar disciplined process for setup and follow-through that is typical of a Next Generation approach. The role of the LCSST, including its structure and collective leadership, is critical to this process.

Notes

This publication is based on information gathered in summer/fall 2017.

  1. Data are from the Oregon Employment Department, 2017.
  2. Lane Workforce Partnership website.
About the Author

Elizabeth Sobel Blum is a senior community development advisor at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

Acknowledgements

The Dallas Fed is grateful to the staff of the Next Generation Sector Partnership Community of Practice, including Francie Genz, John Melville and Lindsey Woolsey, for their knowledge-sharing and editing contributions. A special thank-you goes to Kristina Payne, Lane Workforce Partnership, Lane County, Oregon, for her time and information about the technology partnership's activities.

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