Study: Lack of skilled workers puts Washington state’s life science industry “future at risk”

High demand, stiff competition for IT and skilled production workers threaten current and long-term growth of key sector that today employs nearly 30,000 across the state

Updated 10/20/2017
OLYMPIA, WA – Washington state’s life sciences industry is facing a critical lack of skilled workers that threaten to stunt future growth, according to a report released today by the state Department of Commerce. The full labor market analysis, commissioned by Commerce’s industry sector lead and funded by Governor Inslee, was conducted in close consultation with the governor’s Life Science and Global Health Workforce Panel, a selected group of 25 public and private industry and educational stakeholders including representatives of Life Science Washington, Washington Global Health Alliance, and the state Employment Security Department.

The report, Assessing Washington’s Life Science and Global Health Workforce Dynamics: Enhancing Connections and Addressing the Skills Gap to Ensure Future Growth, notes that while Washington has built a sizeable life science industry employing nearly 30,000 in high-quality jobs, future growth and competitiveness face challenging headwinds, with workforce issues the top concern. Industry data showed recent stagnation in job gains, patent activity and industrial research and development here compared to the U.S. and competitor states.

Average wages in the industry are $84,156 with above-average concentration in research, testing and medical labs. Washington is also a leader in the related, primarily nonprofit global health sector.

A primary cause for concern is intense competition for similar talent and STEM graduates sought by the region’s huge IT and aerospace industries. The assessment identified eight groups of workers in high-demand: life-science-related engineers; medical and clinical lab technicians; regulatory affairs; bioinformatics/biostatistics; engineers and engineering technicians; information technology; skilled production; and marketing and technical sales reps.

“The report tells us we need better alignment with industry needs and existing workforce capabilities,” said Commerce Director Brian Bonlender. “The good news is the study helps provide a roadmap to accomplishing that. It highlights the industry’s strengths, such as its workforce diversity as compared to other high tech industries.”

Diversity and inclusion in the workforce is one bright spot in the report. Washington’s life science employers are faring better at engaging women in the industry than the nation and are doing much better than other large manufacturing and IT sectors in the state economy. Since 2000, life science employers have also increased the share of racial minorities from 16 percent to 22 percent, signaling progress in inclusion as well as gender representation.

Bonlender joined Leslie Alexandre, executive director of Life Science Washington, Denise McCarthy, executive director of Oregon Bioscience Association, and Lori Stewart, vice president of human resources at Adaptive Biotechnologies to discuss the study and workforce challenges at the Life Science Washington Governor’s Summit in Bellevue tomorrow. Life Science Washington is the state’s leading industry association of biomedical and biotech companies.

Download the study here.

Press Contact:

Penny Thomas,, (206) 256-6106

Attorney Christopher Poulos named to head Washington State Reentry Council

From penitentiary to White House, new executive director uniquely qualified to lead policy efforts to address addiction, help former inmates successfully rejoin workforce

Christopher Poulos will serve as executive director of the Washington Statewide Reentry Council, appointed by Department of Commerce Director Brian Bonlender and the council following a nationwide search.

“Chris Poulos, whose compelling personal journey includes taking himself from homelessness, addiction, and prison to law school and serving in the White House and on Capitol Hill, is uniquely qualified to lead our efforts to develop this state’s ‘hidden workforce,’ encouraging successful transitions from incarceration to workplace. We are delighted to have Chris on board,” Bonlender said.

Poulos, once a homeless teenager and now a licensed attorney, served nearly three years in a federal prison for a drug-related conviction. His inspiring story was chronicled by the Washington Post, NBC News and others. He presented a TED Talk in 2015. Poulos also was interviewed by TVW’s Austin Jenkins on Inside Olympia.

Prior to taking the helm at Washington’s Reentry Council this month, Poulos served as executive director of Life of Purpose Treatment at the University of North Texas, where he was also an adjunct professor of criminal justice. During law school, he served in the Obama White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and The Sentencing Project. Poulos has advised United States Senator Angus King (I-Maine) on addiction and justice policy and served on several task forces related to criminal justice policy. He graduated cum laude from the University of Maine School of Law, where he was president of the American Constitution Society and represented children facing criminal charges as a student attorney in the Juvenile Justice Clinic.

“I am incredibly honored and privileged to serve as Executive Director of the Washington Statewide Reentry Council,” Poulos said. “The fact that the Council and Department of Commerce selected a person who has both professional and personal reentry experience speaks volumes on the state’s commitment to developing smart and innovative policies regarding community reentry following criminal justice system involvement. I plan to work closely with the Council, state government, and the public to seize this opportunity to promote public safety by helping provide pathways to success for people reentering society.”

Learn more about the goals and policy work of the new Washington Statewide Reentry Council here.

Commerce successfully attracts ‘Who’s Who’ of corporate location pros

Our business development team scored a big win in partnering with the Port of Seattle to co-host the Site Selectors Guild Annual Fall Forum. This group is the primary national association of corporate location consultants, and it was the first time one of their annual professional summits had taken place on the west coast.

Other sponsors were Economic Development Council of Seattle-King County, Tri-Cities Development Council (TRIDEC), Economic Development Board for Tacoma-Pierce County, Pierce County, city of Seattle, Economic Alliance Snohomish County, Kitsap Economic Development Alliance and Greater Spokane Incorporated (GSI).

The three-day gathering provided an opportunity for top site selectors to see the outstanding business advantages Washington state has to offer companies in many key industry sectors.

Joining with our partners from all over the state, we showcased attributes including a favorable tax environment, low-cost clean energy, affordable land, talented workforces and world-class industry ecosystems in high tech and clean tech, aerospace and advanced manufacturing, life sciences, maritime, military and defense, value-added agriculture and others.

Site selectors play a key role in helping corporations evaluate and choose locations for new, expanding or relocating facilities and operations. Our Office of Economic Development and Competitiveness (OEDC) has limited marketing resources compared with our competitor states, so we must be highly targeted and strategic in our business recruitment efforts. Focusing on site selectors has proven to be an effective tool over the past several years.

Currently, nearly 30 percent of our active recruitment projects involve site selectors or other investment and development consultants.

Making sure children are safe from lead exposure

You may not know that Commerce manages the state’s Lead-Based Paint Program, ensuring that work performed on homes containing lead-based paint is completed safely.

According to the Center for Disease Control, lead-based paint is the leading environmental hazard to children under the age of six — far more common than lead water pipes. Lead paint was commonly used in homes built before 1978.

KOMO-TV in Seattle ran a great story about lead paint hazards. Watch video

The primary purpose of Commerce’s enforcement program is making sure children are safe from lead exposure. Our first priority is education and training. We inform building and remodeling contractors when the methods they are using may unnecessarily expose children to the dangers of lead, and we fund the state’s only certification program for safe lead-based paint removal and remediation.

Partnerships are key to success

Our program staff received a call from the Department of Health, alerting us to a 13-month-old child in Seattle with an elevated blood lead level. This was discovered at a routine pediatrician visit.

Commerce has an agreement with the Department of Health to investigate elevated blood lead level cases whenever possible. Preliminary results from our inspectors indicate that the bookcase where the child’s toys were stored had seven times the legal limit of lead. We believe this is the source of lead that caused the child’s elevated blood lead level. After we identified the source, the family immediately removed the toys from the bookcase until they could move, minimizing the child’s contact with the source of lead. The landlord let the family out their lease and they moved out of the house.

Cultivating tech investment, new opportunities with Japan

Japan + Seattle A.I. Innovation Meetup 6.0 was an inbound trade mission connecting a dozen Japanese companies, including multinationals Mitsubishi Corporation, Fujitsu and Sojitz, with about 100 members of Washington’s tech startup community. The event is the sixth such business-to-business meetup since Commerce entered into a memorandum of cooperation with Japan and partnered with Tokyo-based Innovation Finders Capital and Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe.

Japan is keenly interested in artificial intelligence (AI) and has entered into dozens of partnerships as a result of these events, resulting in tens of millions of dollars in new business deals.

Washington startups participating in the last event held in Tokyo earlier this year have already secured more than $3 million in projected funding with more expected. About half of the 10 businesses selected to pitch at a special session prior to a welcome gathering Oct. 4 at Japan Consul General Yamada’s official residence on Queen Anne Hill were on the earlier investment mission to Tokyo.

Successful companies featured in opening remarks by Commerce Director Bonlender at the event included Bellevue-based Tupl, which now has a subsidiary in Japan, thanks to connections made at the Tokyo meetup. Matchbox Mobile landed contracts with Japanese automakers for their AI and machine learning apps. Defined Crowd, a company that created a platform combining crowdsourcing and machine learning, landed investment from Sony and was unable to attend the Seattle 6.0 meetup because their team was presenting at CEATEC, Japan’s largest IT and electronics expo.

Over three days in Seattle, the companies explored business and investment opportunities at the cutting edge of AI and machine learning. The Puget Sound region in particular is a hotspot for incredible new technologies such as natural language processing and chat bot, big data for predictive analysis, Internet of Things (IoT), robotic machine vision and manufacturing, and autonomous vehicles.

By close of business last week, over 100 one-on-one meetings had taken place and multiple deals are in the works.

80,000 Washingtonians benefit from Housing Trust Fund investments

“Making sure every person has a suitable place to live is one of the most critical areas of focus at Commerce.”

— Connie Robins, Commerce Deputy Director

Hundreds of partners work with Commerce every year to support Washington State Housing Trust Fund and affordable housing projects, strengthening communities all across the state. At the recent Housing Washington Conference in Spokane, Commerce Deputy Director Connie Robins acknowledged the many contributions of staff, community service providers, contractors, developers and others who make it possible for our most vulnerable residents to have safe, healthy, affordable places to live.

The Department of Commerce is proud to once again join the state Housing Finance Commission, in partnership with the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, in presenting this important annual event for all those engaged in tackling one of the major social and economic issues facing our state today: affordable housing and homelessness.

The Department of Commerce is the one agency in state government that touches every aspect of community and economic development: planning, infrastructure, energy, public facilities, housing, public safety and crime victims, international trade, business services and more.

We work with local governments, businesses and civic leaders throughout the state to strengthen communities so all residents may thrive and prosper.

Making sure every person has a suitable place to live is one of most critical areas of focus at Commerce. The Housing Trust Fund is a major piece of our agency’s diverse portfolio.

For example, we have invested $10 million in more than 270 units in Spokane alone, where the Housing Washington Conference took place. These projects include net-zero, ultra-high efficiency units, health home or permanent supportive housing projects and projects that link to federal investment. These projects serve several demographics, including:
•109 units for homeless families with children
•9 units for persons with chronic mental illness
•16 units for persons with disabilities
•10 units for veterans
•29 for first-time home buyers
•96 units for the general low-income population

This is a two-year snapshot of the Trust Fund at work in just one community.

Statewide, at any given time, nearly 80,000 of our state’s most vulnerable residents benefit from the Housing Trust Fund. Throughout the 31-year history of the program, more than a billion dollars has been invested, and nearly 50,000 units have been developed. Fifty percent of the households we serve include at least one person with special needs. Every one dollar of investment in the Trust Fund leverages about five dollars on average from other sources.

And there’s need for even more capital investment in the Housing Trust Fund. We currently have 135 applications in our statewide pipeline that would create nearly 7,000 new units for a $235 million investment. We look forward to seeing the legislature back at work in Olympia soon to deliver a capital budget that will enable the Trust Fund to continue building affordable housing in our communities.

Tech meets timber, bringing jobs to Spokane Valley

We congratulate and welcome Katerra to Spokane Valley, Washington! The innovative California-based company will open a 250,000-square-foot plant to make engineered wood products used in its own and potentially other residential developments, including the new Pine Valley Ranch and River House Senior Apartments in Spokane. Working closely with Gov. Inslee and our associate development organization partners at Greater Spokane, Inc., Commerce provided a $150,000 grant from the economic development strategic reserve fund to help establish Katerra’s first of several planned cross-laminated timber (CLT) manufacturing plants, bringing 150 jobs to the Spokane community. Read the Spokesman-Review news story.

Katerra is one of nine successful business recruitments Commerce helped accomplish this year, bringing an estimated $135 in capital investment and 600 jobs to Washington state. Three of these projects are strengthening rural communities, bringing 400 jobs and $105 million in capital investment to areas outside our major metropolitan areas.

State Startup Center for Entrepreneurial Success ramps up under Inland Northwest Partners leadership

Washington state’s small business assistance programs in Asotin and Whitman counties help rural entrepreneurs realize startup dreams, attract $20K contribution from Avista

OLYMPIA, WA – The Washington State Department of Commerce’s Startup Washington 365 program is increasing efforts to support entrepreneurs in Asotin and Whitman counties through a new relationship with Inland Northwest Partners (INP). The non-profit based in Liberty Lake, WA is currently recruiting a full-time program manager to lead and build services offered through the Startup Washington Center for Entrepreneurial Success to new businesses in these rural communities.

Education, access to experts in fields such as law and accounting, and a host of mentorship and networking opportunities are available through and

 “We are excited to build out services that focus on connecting entrepreneurs with resources to further their development, champion entrepreneurship and promote the Startup Washington 365 program throughout the region,” said Sharon Williams, executive director, Inland Northwest Partners/Inland Northwest Economic Alliance.

The Washington state legislature approved $250,000 to fund Commerce’s Startup Washington 365 rural economic development programs through the 2017-19 biennium. Spokane-based investor-owned utility Avista contributed an additional $20,000 to support the new work led by Inland Northwest Partners.

“The contract with Inland Northwest Partners enables us to enhance the Startup Washington 365 program in Southeastern Washington, continuing our focus on helping entrepreneurs launch and grow their businesses,” said Steve Trabun, regional business development manager with Avista. The company was instrumental in establishing and growing Greater Spokane Incorporated’s Startup Spokane program and remains one of its central investors.

“This strategic economic development initiative contributes to Avista’s commitment to create economically healthy and vibrant rural communities,” Trabun said.

“Public-private collaboration is core to the goals and success of Startup Washington 365,” said Commerce Director Brian Bonlender. “Nurturing the talent, innovation and drive of home-grown entrepreneurs by connecting them with mentors and professional services spurs economic growth and jobs, strengthening rural communities throughout Washington state.”

Since inception in 2015, Startup Washington 365 has helped nearly 200 entrepreneurs who have succeeded in establishing 51 new ventures.

5-0 Guide Services is one of those early success stories in Asotin County. Owner Greg Egbert established a fishing guide service in Scenic Hells Canyon, offering salmon, steelhead, sturgeon and bass expeditions year-round in North America’s deepest river gorge.

“Thank you Startup Asotin for providing a one-stop location for local entrepreneurs to quickly identify the specific resources needed to grow,” Egbert said. He listed a few of the resources he gained through the program, including:

  • Access to free, informative seminars
  • Ability to network with area experts
  • Collaboration with fellow entrepreneurs
  • Information on how to access local resources such as the Small Business Development Center

Expansion of the Startup Asotin and Startup Whitman programs includes an ongoing partnership with Walla Walla Community College. In-person outreach will be provided through the Pullman-based program manager and championed by Avista regional business managers and other partners and sponsors. For more information, visit or

Commerce designates new North Central Washington Technology Zone, renews Innovation Partnership Zone status for Vancouver and Skagit Valley

Innovation Partnership Zones (IPZs) connect research, private sector, workforce partners to spur development in target clusters

OLYMPIA, WA – The Washington State Department of Commerce today designated a new Innovation Partnership Zone (IPZ) and reauthorized two other IPZs to help spur regional economic growth through key sectors such as manufacturing, global health and technology.

“Innovation Partnership Zones is an important tool that helps communities determine for themselves their economic future. It strengthens communities by facilitating a thoughtful and strategic planning process that ultimately converts into opportunities for new and targeted job growth.  I congratulate the newest member of our vibrant IPZ community, the North Central Washington Technology Zone, and the ongoing successes of those in Vancouver and Skagit Valley,” said Brian Bonlender, state Commerce director.

New IPZ Designation:

  • North Central Washington Technology Zone, North Central Workforce Development Council
  • Re-Designations:

    IPZs are designated for four-year terms. The following IPZs were designated in 2013 and retained their status:

  • Applied Digital Technology IPZ, Vancouver/Camas, City of Vancouver
  • Skagit Valley Value Added Agriculture IPZ, Skagit, Economic Development Association Skagit County
  • “The IPZ designation for the North Central Washington Technology Zone is great news! The collaborative effort of this partnership is building a strong platform that connects local business and industry, expands cutting-edge research and propels technology and innovation to new heights. This confluence is timely and will only continue to strengthen our local economy, grow jobs and create new opportunities for North Central businesses and our citizens,” said Dave Petersen, executive director, North Central Workforce Development Council.

    “On behalf of all our IPZ partners including the Port of Skagit, WSU Research and the Bread Lab, Skagit Valley College, Skagit County, the city of Mount Vernon, the farmers of Skagit, Skagit Valley Malting, Northwest Agriculture Business Center, Nothwest Innovation Resource Center, and others, we are delighted that the Skagit Value-Added Agriculture IPZ has been re-designated by the Department of Commerce,” said John Sternlicht, CEO of the Economic Development Alliance of Skagit County, the IPZ’s administrator. “Our primary goals are to promote innovation in agriculture and find new and sustainable sources of revenue from agriculture here, including new products and markets, new venues, new activities and new technologies.”

    Teresa Brum, City of Vancouver, Economic Development Division manager, said, “We are very pleased with the renewal of the Innovation Partnership Zone designation. The City of Vancouver looks forward to working with our partners to implement the next phase of the IPZ!”

    Created 10 years ago, the goal of Innovation Partnership Zones is to stimulate growth of industry clusters and build strong regional economies. IPZs empower regions to form partnerships among research entities, private-sector partners, and workforce training to collaborate and develop commercially viable technologies. To learn more about Innovation Partnership Zones and choosing Washington state as your place to do business, visit


  • AuburnUrban Center for Innovative Partnerships, (2011~City of Auburn). More information: Doug Lein (253) 804-3101
  • BothellBothell Biomedical Device IPZ, (2007~City of Bothell). More information: Bob Stowe (425) 486-3256
  • Grays HarborGrays Harbor IPZ, (2007~Port of Grays Harbor). More information: Alissa Shay (360) 482-1651
  • Issaquah – Sports Medicine Innovation Partnership Zone, (2015~City of Issaquah). More information: Jen Davis-Hayes (425) 837-3414
  • RedmondInteractive Media and Digital Arts IPZ, (2011~City of Redmond and Economic Development Council of Seattle-King County). More information: John Marchione (425) 556-2101
  • Snohomish – Aerospace Convergence Zone, (2007~Economic Development Council of Snohomish County). More information: Matt Smith (425) 248-4219
  • SpokaneSpokane University District IPZ, (2007~Greater Spokane Incorporated). More information: Robin Toth (509) 321-3636
  • Tri Cities Tri Cities Research District, (2007~Port of Benton). More information: Diahann Howard (509) 375-3060
  • Thurston – Thurston Craft Brewing and Distilling Innovation Partnership Zone, (2015~Thurston County). More information: Michael Cade (360) 754-6320
  • Walla WallaWalla Walla Valley IPZ, (2007~City of Walla Walla). More information: Tim McCarty (509) 527-4540
  • U.S. Department of Commerce Invests $500K in Washington state maritime sector innovation

    Washington Maritime Blue 2050” project aims to lead the nation in sustainable ocean industry technology and practices, earns regional innovation strategy grant

    OLYMPIA, WA – The Washington State Department of Commerce was awarded a $500,000 grant through the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s (EDA) Regional Innovation Strategies (RIS) program to support Washington Maritime Blue 2050, a statewide vision for creating and expanding the nation’s most sustainable ocean industry and technology cluster. Every federal dollar is matched with state and local funds.

    The ‘Blue Economy’ is taking off around the world, from ships humming with electric engines to port efficiency and automation and the first zero-emission terminal now under construction. Studies predict that in coming decades, scientific and technological advances will play a crucial role in addressing ocean-related environmental challenges and ocean-based economic activities.

    “Maritime activity has long been a pillar of Washington state’s economy,” Gov. Jay Inslee said. “Today we are uniquely poised to lead the country in maritime clean tech innovation and best management practices that create living-wage jobs, a healthy environment, and resilient communities.”

    Every segment of the state’s $37.8 billion maritime sector will be affected by technological advances in coming years, so leaders in government, research, businesses and academic communities are working together to capitalize on prime opportunities with Washington Maritime Blue: 2050 Vision for Accelerating Innovation.

    The project has three main objectives:
    • Set the course for sustainable maritime industry innovation. The Washington Maritime BLUE 2050 is a strategy to ensure Washington State is home of the most sustainable maritime industry by 2050, aligned with Governor Inslee’s plans for deep de-carbonization, innovation and workforce development.
    • Support strong blue tech cluster coordination, forming strategic alliances, growth in trade, and increased jobs.
    • Support development of the Washington Maritime Innovation Center at the Port of Seattle, in partnership with the Port of Seattle and the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Lab.

    “Receiving this grant acknowledges the strong connections created through our sector lead program to ensure our state is positioned to thrive and lead in the increasingly competitive international marketplace for maritime services,” Commerce Director Brian Bonlender said. “Washington’s maritime industry strengthens communities all over the state by employing a diverse workforce of nearly 70,000.
    Our goal is to build on that by creating a green, efficient, sustainable maritime sector that will serve as a model for the rest of the country.”

    The $500,000 grant is matched in-kind by the Port of Seattle, which is providing space for the Washington Maritime Innovation Center, and the University of Washington Applied Physics Lab providing staff time.

    The Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (OIE), housed within the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA), leads the Regional Innovation Strategies Program to spur innovation capacity-building activities in regions across the nation. The program is authorized through the America COMPETES reauthorization Act of 2010, and has received dedicated appropriations since fiscal year 2014.

    Commerce was one of 42 organizations — including nonprofits, institutions of higher education, and entrepreneurship-focused organizations from 28 states that received over $17 million to create and expand cluster-focused proof-of-concept and commercialization programs, and early-stage seed capital funds through RIS. The awardees were selected from a pool of more than 217 applicants.

    Press Contact:

    Penny Thomas,, (206) 256-6106