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Rep. Johnson says high-tech education center in Hood River likely

— Rep. Mark Johnson told the Chamber of Commerce at Friday’s Appreciation dinner that a high-tech educational facility to serve the Gorge is looking increasingly likely for Hood River.

A meeting next month in Salem should be the tale of the tape.

“The rest of state looks at this as a great community and (legislators) are envious of me getting to represent Hood River,” he said. “I was in a meeting the other night that symbolized that.

“We are working closely with CGCC to put together a plan for a new proposal, Columbia Gorge Center for Regional Innovation, going to be based right here in Hood River. The idea is what this community needs and what our private sector folks are asking for; is more advanced technological education that directly targeted what the private sector — Insitu, Cloud Cap Technologies and others — are looking for.

“We are looking to put together a plan where we can begin to develop some four-year degree opportunities right here in Hood River so people don’t have to go to Eugene or Klamath Falls or Corvallis to get that degree in advanced aeronautical engineering.”

Johnson said he met in late February with CGCC President Dr. Frank Toda and Dr. Rudy Crew, the state’s chief education officer, Ben Cannon of Kitzhaber’s staff and Duncan Weiss, Portland Development Council chair.

“We made a presentation that was enthusiastically received,” Johnson said. “One of the things that sealed the deal is the support this community has for public education because it is such a huge contributing factor.

“When we can point to events like happened last November when we passed a Local Option Levy with about 62 percent of the vote, people say, ‘You know if we give Hood River (the funds) we know the community itself will come behind it and support this as well.’

“We had a very good meeting and will present it to the Oregon Education Investment Board in April and I have every hope that soon after we will have an announcement of a brand new educational facility right here in Hood River. That’s an indication of how representing the community is easy, because the community does so much to foster that reputation around the state.

“What they’re looking for is places we can crate these regional STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) hubs in Oregon and I think there’s a very good chance we could become the pilot. And that’s what the whole theme of the meeting is going to be.

“OEIB is charged with making targeted investments in P-20 (pre-school to post-graduate); they have the cash,” Johnson said. “With the capital construction budget, out of the top 20 projects, the governor drew the line at 10, and this one (the Gorge tech center) was at 11.

“I did some behind-the-scenes texting, talked to the governor at Mahonia Hall, and he’s really interested in it. He has a real interest in seeing this coming out.”

Letters of support are coming from OSU, PSU and Lewis and Clark, to bring in the needed staff.

“It’s a whole different paradigm; taking resources out to where the students are, out to where the private sector needs the education,” Johnson said. “It’s a whole new way of thinking about it.”

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