State Releases $7.5 Million for Innovation Center

Scappoose Mayor Scott Burge tours the Advanced Manufacturing Research Center in Sheffield, England
PHOTO COURTESY OF SCOTT BURGE – Scappoose Mayor Scott Burge gets a tour of the Advanced Manufacturing Research Center in Sheffield, England.

By: Courtney Vaughn, South County Spotlight

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May 25, 2016

State legislators approved the release of $7.5 million Wednesday for the Oregon Manufacturing Innovation Center, slated for Scappoose.

A majority of that money, at least $5 million, will go to Portland Community College to use in conjunction with $9.4 million of existing bond money to develop a center focused on workforce training, called the Oregon Training Facility. Development of the facility would satisfy PCC’s obligation to use bond money to develop an educational site in Columbia County.

Release of the funds was triggered by the approval of a joint business plan for the center submitted earlier this month.

The center stands to be one of the most significant developments ever to come to the county. Planned for two separate facilities in Scappoose, a research and design center would complement the Oregon Training Facility, which will offer job skills training to high school students as well as adult jobseekers.

Modeled after the Advanced Manufacturing Research Center in Sheffield, England, the OMIC will be a collaboration between large-scale manufacturing companies like Boeing, and other companies that stand to benefit from research, development and innovative approaches to metals manufacturing.

“OMIC builds on Oregon’s long-standing reputation as a leading metals, machinery and manufacturing hub,” Chris Harder, director of Business Oregon, stated in a news release. Harder called the center a “collaborative effort between industry, academia and government” that will lead to workforce training and long-term job creation.

The manufacturing center has the potential to bring a substantial economic revitalization to the county, but it hinges on large-scale financial commitments from manufacturing companies.

According to a business plan for the OMIC, the center will cost an estimated $3.5 million during its first year in operation in 2017, with the expectation that $1 million in equipment purchase costs will be covered by donations from industry and universities.

Large companies, such as aerospace manufacturer The Boeing Company, would pay membership fees to use the staff and resources at the OMIC. Top tier companies will pay $300,000 in annual fees, while second tier companies, categorized as “current and aspiring supply chain firms,” would pay $45,000 each year.

Initial membership to the OMIC is a five-year commitment.

The center will need two top-tier members and one tier-two member during the first year to be successful. It will also need an additional $1.4 million in grants over the next four years.

So far, the center has received buy-in commitments from The Boeing Company, the Oregon Institute of Technology, Oregon State University and Portland State University, along with PCC’s commitment to build the Oregon Training Facility, where students would receive workforce training through industry-sponsored skilled apprenticeships, according to the business plan.

Offering a research and design center within close proximity to a workforce training site could be the linchpin in the recruitment and retention of successful metal manufacturing companies.

“Co-location of R&D and manufacturing is a must for an innovation-based economy,” the business plan states. “An R&D center near manufacturers, many of which are in supply-chain relationships with one another, can rapidly produce innovations and lead to a large-scale employment increase.”

Despite overwhelming promise and enthusiasm from lawmakers and industry leaders, a report from the state’s Legislative Fiscal Office suggests a bit of uncertainty about the center’s potential for success.

“At this time … it is not known whether the R&D center will be successful in generating the revenue needed to support its operations, how well the operations of the R&D Center and the Training Facilty will be coordinated, or how the operations of the Training Facility will be financed and how many students will enroll,” an analysis report prepared for legislators states.

State Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, was instrumental in garnering support for the OMIC. Johnson was one of more than a dozen leaders from Oregon who traveled to Sheffield in early 2016 to see the success of the city’s AMRC. Johnson foresees similar success for her district.

“With an established manufacturing industry, available land, a skilled workforce, and proactive government and educational partners we have all the ingredients to create a successful innovation district,” Johnson stated in the release. “The creation of OMIC is an extraordinary opportunity to transform the economic landscape, not only of Scappoose and Columbia County, but of greater Portland and the state.”