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Skills for the Next Washington

The Workforce Board, in collaboration with its economic and workforce development partners, has developed a plan for coordinating workforce and economic development at the state and local levels focusing on a cluster-based approach. The recommendations from this plan has now been introduced as agency-request legislation.

Based on Governor Gregoire’s direction and a number of forums and discussions, this plan, called Skills for the Next Washington, presents a framework for coordinating workforce and economic development at the state and local levels focusing on a cluster-based approach. It does not attempt to describe comprehensively all the inter-related aspects of workforce and economic development or even all varieties of sector-based approaches. Sector strategies embody many approaches, of which a cluster-based approach is one.


  1. Amend current programs to increase flexibility and efficiency in serving clusters. Before requesting new resources, it is critical to examine current programs to make certain that they are administered as efficiently as possible.  In some cases, this may require statutory amendments.  As an example, SBCTC is now reviewing the Customized Training Program to see whether changes would make the program easier for employers to use.
  2. Codify common definitions for the terms “cluster,” “sector,” and “high demand. These terms are frequently used inconsistently, creating confusion and poor communication.  By placing consistent definitions where these terms appear in state statute, it will help to alleviate this confusion.
  3. Authorize the LMEA unit of ESD to conduct additional research on industry clusters. The LMEA unit of ESD is the state’s center of labor market data. LMEA, however, is not currently directed by state statute to conduct cluster research. 
  4. Request the Workforce Board, CTED, and the Economic Development Commission to coordinate planning for workforce and economic development, especially around industry clusters. While these three partner agencies do not need statutory authorization to coordinate planning around industry clusters, such authorization would lend a sense of long-standing commitment to a cluster approach, helping to address the state’s history of starts and stops in supporting clusters.
  5. Add CTED and ADOs to the Workforce Compact describing roles and responsibilities. The parties represented on the Workforce Board formulated a compact in 2007 that delineates the roles and responsibilities of each organization. CTED and ADOs were not party to the compact. Since that time, the director of CTED has been added as a participating official on the Board. Adding CTED and the ADOs to the Compact would help communicate that workforce and economic development must work together.
  6. Authorize the Workforce Development Councils (WDCs) to coordinate workforce development planning in their regions, with a special focus on industry clusters. The strategic planning responsibilities of the WDCs are not currently recognized in state statute, but are instead established by executive order and requirements adopted by the Workforce Board. While the WDCs already coordinate strategic planning and do emphasize industry clusters, placing this responsibility into state statute would reinforce this function and would be an important part of completing this state/local framework.
  7. Authorize the WDCs and the ADOs to work together to coordinate planning for workforce and economic development in their area. Although the WDCs and ADOs do not require statutory authority to work together to support clusters, by placing this requirement in statute it would create a sense of sustained state support for this approach.
  8. Place the community and technical colleges’ Centers of Excellence into statute. Statutory authorization would provide a foundation for ongoing support. The Centers should be described in statute without naming individual Centers in order to allow the colleges the flexibility to support Centers that match the changing economy.

The above recommendations can be implemented without necessarily requiring additional state resources.  This is noted in light of the current revenue forecast for the next biennium.  As things change and state leaders think about additional investments, investments in the above activities would be worthy of the state’s consideration.  In addition, the State should consider the following two recommendations with clear budgetary impacts.

  • Provide funding for the CTED cluster grant program.The CTED cluster grant program provided resources that enabled several of the local cluster efforts to get off the ground.  No funding has been provided during the current biennium.
  • Establish a state version of the federal WIRED grant to promote workforce and economic development in strategic industry clusters. The WIRED grant program provides flexible funds for workforce and economic development entities to work together to transform industries to be competitive in the 21st century. Local practitioners and policy leaders have frequently commented on the lack of funding that is not tied up in existing bureaucratic requirements.

2009 Legislation
-- S.B. 5048
-- Background on bill

Strategic Industry Cluster Policy

Workforce Board preliminary statewide cluster analysis

New High Skills, High Wages Strategic Fund

Cluster Academy Summary




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