By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
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With many people locked into an upside-down mortgage, it can be difficult to attract top professionals to a rural county like Clallam.
“Let’s face it: There’s not a real active nightlife here, and a lot of young grads are not willing to leave that behind,” said Cathy Price, human resources manager for Nippon Paper Industries USA Inc. mill in Port Angeles, during a panel discussion at Monday’s Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
“Also, distance from the I-5 corridor seems to be a concern to a lot of folks. We get a lot of positive energy from people who have come from a similar small-town environment as opposed to the big city, who are outdoor people.
“We do have a lot to offer, but it’s got to be the right kind of person that wants that kind of environment.”
Olympic Medical Center Human Resources Director Richard Newman said the public hospital district spends 61 percent of its budget on wages and benefits, considerably more than its counterparts on Puget Sound.
“Being in a geographically separated area, it’s a little different for prices and cost of staffing,” Newman told about 60 chamber members at the Port Angeles Red Lion Hotel.
“A lot of hospitals in the I-5 corridor have staffing agencies they can call on quickly. We aren’t able to do that. So at times, we have extra staff because our census fluctuates quite a bit.”
With 1,100 employees, OMC is the region’s largest employer.
“A problem that we often have, and some of you might, is the trailing spouse,” Newman added.
“We often have a great physician to offer [a job], but the trailing spouse really would like to do more than garden or hike.”
Chamber Executive Director Russ Veenema agreed.
“Pretty much every employer that I’ve talked with, the trailing spouse is an issue,” Veenema said.
“Maybe we as a community can do a better job connecting people.”
Invariably, prospective employees will ask about the schools and the quality of health care in the region, which works to OMC’s advantage.
“Luckily we have, I think, good health care,” Newman said.
“I think we have good school systems, so it’s an easy thing to talk to them about.”
Jon Toliver of Morningside, an Olympia-based nonprofit with offices in Clallam, Grays Harbor, Lewis and Thurston counties, said his agency provides job training, coaching and transition services for people living with disabilities.
“Many individuals with disabilities want to work, and they haven’t had opportunities because people don’t want to step out and try something different,” Toliver said.
“Repeated studies and surveys and analysis show that individuals with disabilities can make good and safe workers.”
Morningside, which has been in Port Angeles since 2000, has clients working for OMC, Pacific Office Equipment, Lee Shore Boats and other local businesses.
“We match the interest and the ability of the person to the employer,” Toliver said.
“We pre-screen and train the individual in your company on the job. . . . Our staff can train newly hired workers until they know the job, and in some cases, we will follow that person for as long as they are employed by you.”
OMC also hires local employees, including registered nurses, dietary workers, housekeeping staff and office assistants.
The nursing program at Peninsula College has been an asset to the hospital, Newman said.
“Every year, we hire anywhere from two to six new grads for openings at our facility,” he said.
But a lack of specialized training and small population base force OMC and Nippon to look elsewhere for skilled work.
“Most of the professionals that we need at Nippon Paper Industries USA are not available in the local area,” Price said.
“Most of those are various engineers, project engineers, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers — and they’re all in demand nationally. Currently, the U.S. isn’t graduating enough engineers, so we recruit those on a nationwide basis.”
Nippon recently revamped its employment screening process, which led to an improvement in the quality of applicants, Price said.
“We do hire entry-level labor and some of the skilled crafts at the local level,” she said.
“We do have openings, and the ones we are having trouble filling are those professionals that don’t really exist at the local level.”
Price said local workers currently are being trained to work at Nippon’s biomass cogeneration facility.
The $71 million biomass expansion project is on schedule to launch next fall.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.