Governor's Tech Summit brought understanding

“Photo: Guest Columnist Jamie Chase Yellow buses, eager children and a crisp fall breeze all reveal the arrival of a new school year. Education is a sensitive political topic this season with critical implications for the future of the technology industry. The Governor’s Technology Workforce Summit on September 29 brought the discussion to Tacoma last week and to the Tacoma Technology Consortium (TTC) on September 20.The TTC’s panel discussion hosted Richard Nafziger from the Governor’s Policy Office for a discussion on the skills gap in Washington’s high-tech industries. As Nafziger discussed the allocation of funds to make the University of Washington one of the top five computer science programs in the nation, and the allocation of funds to the University of Washington, Tacoma (UWT), to focus on increasing the number of full time equivalent student seats, the tone of the consortium grew very somber Nafziger didn’t realize he was walking into the lions den, said one attendee.What happened at the consortium that turned an audience of leaders against the positive message sent from the governor’s office?Many of Tacoma’s advocates received a policy report with one statement that touched the insecurities of our community. Nafzinger reiterated the statement at the TTC.Tacoma is an attractive location (to focus on increasing the number of baccalaureate degrees), because it is close enough to the core of the IT industry to service the industry’s needs in King County, said Nafzinger.As Tacoma moved from an economy based on the manufacturing and processing of natural resources to an economy of the mind, the community’s self image also transformed. TTC attendees inferred that the Governor’s intention was to make Tacoma a manufacturer of people. This is clearly a misperception.Adding to this misunderstanding was the perception of research funds management by the governor’s office. Jim Crabbe reflected the general mood of the TTC audience as he referenced Nafziger’s handout. It pointed out that tech industries tend to cluster around a single focal point and are usually anchored around a research university. Crabbe asked why TTC members should support a plan allocating all research funds to Seattle, undermining the backbone of Tacoma’s high-tech industry while making UWT a manufacturer of skilled commuter employees.Crabbe’s position changed after attending the workforce summit.I enjoyed the Tech Summit put on by Governor Lock, said Crabbe. Gov. Locke and Mayor Ebersole have opened the doors to communicating how all of these groups can work together to solve the skills gap problem. Informing all of the various economic sectors of plans and initiatives has helped me to gain new understanding of how hard the state is working to solve this problem.Mayor Ebersole was also impressed by the end result of the summit. Ebersole discussed with several business leaders the challenge Washington actually faces. He described the state’s position as 50th in the nation in the graduation of bachelor degrees. Last year alone, 3700 high-tech jobs went to people imported from over seas. Those jobs should go to people of the Puget Sound, said Ebersole. The good news is that the governor is focusing on increasing the number of two and four year degrees awarded each year in the high-tech fields and is focusing on Tacoma as the right place to do it.The TTC’s official stance supports the expansion of programs in the University of Washington system as one of key strategies to close the skills gap. In a letter to the governor’s office the TTC describes a vision that the UWT campus will continue to grow as an educational center for the South Puget Sound, and that it will eventually offer graduate and research programs in addition to current and future undergraduate programs.Mayor Ebersole pointed out that establishing an expanded degree offering at the UWT is the first step toward obtaining federal research dollars, and dispelling the misperception that the governor’s office delegates state fund’s to research institution. Hopefully, overtime working with our congressional delegation we can secure federal funds for a research component at UWT, Ebersole said.The Governor’s Technology Workforce Summit aimed to improve educational opportunities within the high-tech sector. The end result, indeed, educated high-tech leaders. It was a success.Jamie Chase is vice president of public and investor relations for ContractQuest. Chase is also the founder of Tacoma’s e-Business Day. “