Spokane Journal of Business

Statewide training for rural manufacturers advances

Effort led here reaches concerns in 31 counties

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Innovate Washington, an affiliate of Spokane-based Ignite Northwest, is overseeing $2.4 million in federal grant money being used primarily to pay for advanced training for rural employees in manufacturing-related fields statewide.

The U.S. Department of Labor contributed $1.3 million to the grant. The U.S. Economic Development Administration contributed $750,000, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology—which is overseen by the U.S. Department of Commerce—added $375,000.

Based in Spokane, Ryan Layton—hired as a staff person by Innovate Washington to be its business consultant—helps oversee the grant called Make it in Washington.

Washington state is one of nine states to receive grant money. The federal award was made available in September 2014. Innovate Washington, however, didn’t begin spending the award until the first half of 2015, after Layton was hired as a consultant.

Due to either higher income levels or larger population bases, the counties of Spokane, Lincoln, Whatcom, San Juan, Snohomish, King, Pierce, and Kitsap were not eligible to receive any of the grant award, but the statewide training effort is being led out of Spokane, Layton says.

Innovate Washington and Ignite Northwest operate in a second-floor suite at 714 N. Iron Bridge Way here. Ignite Northwest is a business accelerator and was formed in 2015 with the goal of helping young tech companies overcome startup challenges.

Innovate Washington arose out of the former Spokane Intercollegiate Research and Technology Institute, later known just as SIRTI.

“We’re working with manufacturers in 31 counties to help them better compete for business going overseas. At the same time, we’re also identifying opportunities to put Washington companies in touch with each other for the purpose of expanding their work,” Layton says. 

Layton also provides consulting services to business owners and managers as part of the grant.

In a recent quarterly report submitted to the state’s Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board, one business, Northern Ales Brewery, in Kettle Falls, says it experienced a 73 percent increase in revenue last year after consulting with Layton.

Bogert Manufacturing, in Franklin County, says it experienced its best sales year in the company’s history in 2015 and expects to top last year’s performance this year in part due to consultations with Layton.

Employees working in manufacturing fields can earn certificates for project management, Six Sigma quality management, manufacturing leadership, constraints management, and logistics and supply chain management.

Washington State University; Highline College in Des Moines, Wash.; and Shoreline Community College in Shoreline, Wash. Are offering the certificates through online training, Layton says.

So far, 93 workers statewide have taken advantage of the online training made available. Layton expects nearly 150 workers to seek the advanced training offered before the grant ends in September 2018.

For his part, Layton has connected with more than 160 rural manufacturers across the state. He meets with business owners around Washington, learning what they do. In the process, he looks for chances to pair those companies with each other for potential business opportunities.

“The rural communities continue to experience brain drain, and this grant was designed in part with the intention to address that problem,” Layton says.

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