Bill would boost forestry workers in rural communities

A bill moving through the Washington Legislature, supported by timber companies, would pay for one year of higher education for rural workers in high-demand fields.

House Bill 2177 would create the Rural County High Employer Demand Jobs Program in the 30 of Washington’s 39 counties that qualify as rural.

“One year beyond high school is the tipping point for family wage jobs,” (said the bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. Mike Chapman, D-Port Angeles). “This is about giving every family in rural Washington a chance to join the middle class–while providing local businesses with the skilled workforce they need to compete and thrive.”

Those testifying in favor of the legislation included Sierra Pacific Industries, the Association of Washington Business, the Washington Forest Protection Association, sustainable timber firm Green Crow and the State Board of Community and Technical Colleges.

Others who signed in to support the legislation include the Northwest Progressive Institute, the Port of Port Angeles and the Poverty Action Network.

More details from the Columbia Basin Herald:

Jenny Knoth, a representative for the Port Angeles-based timberland management company Green Crow, came to testify in support of the bill. The market for homes has increased more rapidly than the industry’s ability to hire workers, Knoth said.

“We have difficulty finding carpenters and can’t find enough people to build houses,” said Knoth. “What this bill tells us is there are people across the state interested in our students.”

According to Rep. Chapman, the program would have a tangible impact in rural communities.

“Education is the great equalizer,” Chapman said. “If you look at any community—a city of one million or a small town with 400 people—you can predict a family’s average income by looking at one number: the percentage of workers with any education beyond high school. This legislation lifts up families in timber and farm country with high-demand skills for high-wage jobs. And it goes further by targeting the specific programs and certificates that industries and businesses need in each part of the state.”