Smith presents first funds for Hood River tech center

U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., gave the Port of Hood River the first installment of federal funding for an Integrated Technology Center on Thursday.

Smith presented $150,000 to the port that he and U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., secured toward the conversion of the Expo Center into an educational facility.

"I'm very supportive of what you're trying to accomplish and proud to be your partner and we'll work hard to get the resources to move ahead," said Smith.

Smith promised the county, city and port officials in attendance at the March 27 meeting that he and Walden would work toward obtaining the remaining $4 million of funds needed to remodel the Expo Center, purchase technology equipment and install telecommunications infrastructure.

"This is great news and the timing is perfect," said Bill Lyons, port commission president. "We are a county that is looking at a way to jump-start the economy."

Lyons told Smith the Hood River County Economic Development policy is built on three legs: to retain and expand existing businesses, to diversify by attracting new businesses, and to provide high quality education and training. Thus, Lyons said, a key action to accomplish those goals is to establish a community college satellite campus and technology center.

That need was critical, said Lyons, since Hood River's average wage, at $20,000 annually, is one-third less than the income enjoyed by workers in the nearby Portland-metro area.

Lyons said the port was building partnerships with the Columbia Gorge Community College (CGCC), Hood River County School District and Hood River Electric Cooperative to turn around the sagging economy.

This fall, the electric cooperative will be bringing additional high-speed broadband fiber optic lines across the foot of Mt. Hood to the Columbia River shoreline. About that same time, in spite of budget shortfalls, CGCC will start classes at the Hood River Valley High School and Community Education Center, according to CGCC president Dr. Frank Toda.

"We have to sit down and decide which piece of the puzzle to do first," said Harlan in reference to the Expo Center conversion.

Toda said the Integrated Technology Center would possibly be the first of several satellite campuses within Hood River to provide local educational opportunities. That goal was made more difficult by the state budget deficit that forced legislators to deny CGCC any start-up funds for Hood River as part of the annexation that was approved by local voters last fall.

"I've been in Salem every week since this budget crises occurred pushing for funding because I made a personal commitment to the people of Hood River and its been a big challenge," said Toda.

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