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USDA Grant Will Help Forks Employment

OLYMPIA, Wash. — A grant from the Fund for Rural America to Washington State University will boost employment in Forks, Clallam County.

Forks is one of three rural areas in Washington that will be targeted for help from the two-year, $514,000 grant to WSU Cooperative Extension’s energy program. The other areas are Okanogan County and the northwest region–Ferry, Pend Oreille and Stevens counties and Deer Park.

The three areas participating in the project were selected because they have struggling natural resource-based economies, high unemployment, low-wage jobs and an out-migration of young adults. They also have strong local teams working to improve their telecommunications infrastructure and finding ways to strengthen their economy.

“I think the telework project has tremendous value for Forks and the other communities involved in it,” said Kathy Cunningham, Forks economic development director. “As we strive to diversify the job opportunities for our residents, this project may provide the means to accomplish some of that diversification.

“The project will raise the visibility of telework as an option and it will educate the communities and the potential employers about telework. It will assist us in developing the tools and strategies to utilize in our efforts to recruit business enterprises that could place portions of their operations in remote locations,” Cunningham said.

“We have re-trained many people in the past 10 years, but unfortunately there have not been jobs here for them. We are training our high school students in fields where they will have to leave to put those skills to use.”

“The economic gap between Washington’s rural and urban counties is the largest in the nation, based on earnings and unemployment data,” says Dee Christensen, rural telework project manager.

“Meanwhile, urban businesses suffer from high real estate costs and traffic congestion problems that negatively impact worker productivity,” Christensen says.

“These problems are forcing some urban businesses to consider relocation or growth outside the urban cores.” The Rural Telework Project is preparing rural communities to be ready to respond when these businesses look for a site to expand their operations.

Christensen says rural telework is effective for a broad range of jobs, especially for “knowledge” or “information” workers where work can be done full time away from the main office. Possibilities include data managers, medical transcriptionists, software engineers, project managers, writers, claims adjusters, reservationists, and many back-office functions.

WSU will use the grant to bring urban employers together with rural citizens who are interested in telework. Christensen says WSU will seek three to six employers who will participate in the project and hopes to help create 20 to 40 telework jobs.

The university will help establish working relationships between target communities and urban employers, identify necessary job skills for telework, and work with community teams and employers to identify qualified applicants and job-specific training skills. The project also includes a research component to measure impacts and document lessons learned.

The USDA grant continues WSU’s rural telework activities, which began earlier this year with funding from the Washington State Office of Trade and Economic Development, U.S. Forest Service and Washington Mutual Foundation.

For more information about the Rural Telework Project, contact Dee Christensen at (360) 956-2024 or christensend@energy.wsu.edu.

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