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USDA Grant Will Help NE Washington Employment

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

The northwest region — Ferry, Pend Oreille and Stevens counties and Deer Park — comprises one of three rural areas in Washington targeted for help from the two-year, $514,000 grant. The other areas are Okanogan County and the town of Forks, Clallam County.

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.

Colville has worked hard to become the first community in the project to secure jobs from an employer outside the region. Washington Dental Service, Seattle, announced earlier this week that it will create 30 new jobs in Colville by the second quarter of 2002.

“Whether it’s a company like Washington Dental Service establishing an office or employees working out of their homes, telework may become the next form of business expansion in rural areas,” says Marty Wold, Tri- County Economic Development executive director, Colville.

“Telework could also provide opportunity for small companies that do not have the facilities or the infrastructure for expansion to obtain a presence in our small communities. It is a diversity in the workplace that causes very little disruption because it can be done a few jobs at a time, thereby eliminating the stresses a large firm could cause a small community.

“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, telecommunications unit manager in the WSU Cooperative Extension energy program.

“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 companies like Washington Dental Service 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 developers, 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 needs.

This 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 contact Christensen at (360) 956-2024 or christensend@energy.wsu.edu, or Wold, (509) 684-4571 or mwold@plix.com.

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