Hi-tech business a buzz in Clark County


Clark College has a program designed to fit the needs of a growing hi-tech industry.

At the college’s Center of Excellence for Semiconductor and Electronics Manufacturing, students gain experience in developing the hardware needed to power modern life.

“How many mobile devices have you owned in the last 10 or 12 years?” the center’s director, Carl Douglas, asked a crowd gathered as part of the Association of Washington Business’ “Manufacturing Week” tour. “That’s the speed of technology, and schooling and education doesn’t quite move that fast.”

Douglas said the United States manufactures only about 10% of the semiconductors in the world. Most of those components are made in east Asia. That is poised to change due to the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) and Science Act of 2022 that was signed into law in August. He said the legislation is designed to bring hi-tech manufacturing to the country.

Douglas said Clark College’s center, located in its Columbia Tech Center campus, is one of a number of industry-specific education centers that receives support through the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges. He said those centers are housed at colleges closest to where the largest industries are based. 

Clark College’s center has a focus on semiconductor electronic manufacturing, “the chips that go into cars, that go into spaceships, that go into every device we have these days,” Douglas said.

Douglas said it is important to spread the word about the semiconductor industry, which is a viable career for many that isn’t as well-publicized as others.

“If you look in the (public school) system, everybody knows about firefighters and policemen and nurses and doctors and astronauts,” Douglas said. 

Douglas said people don’t know what the job is or there’s a preconception as to what that segment of manufacturing does.

“We all know how hard it is to get workers, so this is one of the places that we are trying to help that change,” Douglas said.

The stop at Clark College was one of many the Association of Washington Business made during its weeklong Manufacturing Week tour. Prior to the stop, those on the tour visited Advanced Nutrients/Applied Plant Science in Woodland, a company focused on growing cannabis internationally.

AWB President Kris Johnson said Southwest Washington is a hotbed for manufacturing in the state. He said nearly 600 manufacturers exist in Clark County with 14,000 employees for those companies and an average salary of $86,000 for those workers.

Johnson said Washington is a top-10 state for electronic chip manufacturing in the nation, “and all of that is located here in Clark County.” He believes the workforce training and reliable energy systems have led the county to be dominant in tech manufacturing.

Johnson said manufacturing plays into national security and a stable economy because of the modern world’s reliance on electronics.

“Everything we use requires a chip, so let’s make that here in Clark County, let’s make that here in the United States, and that’s what the CHIPS legislation does,” Johnson said.

Outside of the high-tech business, Johnson noted the variety of Washington’s industry, which includes agriculture with the state’s top-tier production of apples and potatoes.

“We make amazing products that we use every day, and sometimes we forget to connect (the manufacturers) to our everyday lives,” Johnson said.

The bus tour, which began Oct. 6 and concluded Oct. 13, is an annual endeavor by the AWB to highlight the businesses that keep the state producing.

“We’re out celebrating job creators and manufacturing leaders throughout the state,” Johnson said.