When Sen. Ron Wyden recently told an economic roundtable of tech leaders that Bend is on the verge of becoming a high-tech mecca, his statement affirmed what many others also sense is happening. For years the knock on Bend was that the region didn't have the skilled labor force to attract tech firms to the region. That dynamic appears to be changing. Oregon State University's Cascade campus will matriculate its first class in the fall and BendPoly, a tech academy, is already open.
BendPoly is the brainchild of Oregonian Bruce Cleveland who splits his time between the Bay Area and Bend. He serves as president of BendPoly. "In order to play in the technology sector you need to have a talent supply chain," he says. The academy is building a set of programs to support that.
Cleveland says Bend Polytechnic Academy is a professional skills academy, the purpose of which is to "provide the vocational skills that students – particularly liberal arts students – need in order to secure their first job." He describes the academy as "the ninth semester" for students.
The academy is currently focusing on providing skills for digital marketing, a high growth component in the tech world, where according to economic forecasts, 150,000 jobs will be generated by the year 2020. "Companies depend on rapidly evolving application software to run their digital marketing functions," says Cleveland. "These are skills not taught in the traditional university curriculum. We're filling the gap." He says that BendPoly looks at what the tech sector wants, and then provides a hands-on program where students can learn to use the application software. They are given projects at the end of the six- to-eight week course and, once they graduate, they are better prepared to apply for in-demand tech jobs.
The academy conducted its first course last summer at the Bend Tech Center with 16 students. Of the students looking for jobs at the end of the session, BendPoly placed 60 percent of them into companies in Bend and throughout Oregon. This summer the academy will increase the size of its class to 20 students, and George Fox University in Newberg will serve as host of the program.
Amber Caisse of Bend is one of the students who graduated from the first cycle at BendPoly. A native of Seattle, she and her husband moved to Bend three years ago without jobs. Like many newcomers, they wanted to move from the frenzy of the big city to one with a better quality of life, less traffic, shorter travel times, and ample recreational opportunities. Not having a job, Caisse took the opportunity to return to school to complete a master's degree in business programs from Concordia University. She has an undergraduate degree in English. But at the end of her master's program she says she didn't have a clear picture of how she was going to find work in Bend. That's when a BendPoly opportunity presented itself, and she says she "jumped at the chance."
Now, she is a specialist who develops marketing content for Kollective Technology, which expanded its offices from the Silicon Valley and established its headquarters in Bend. She says that about half of the California office staff and most of the executive staff moved to Bend."BendPoly was the bridge between my education and getting placed in a job. The reality is that having a degree doesn't mean you can get a job," she says. Caisse says that the academy provided her with specific training that opened the door for her. "I would have never gotten the job with Kollective without BendPoly. Kollective told me they would not have considered me had they not had the referral from the academy."
The program Caisse took at the academy was an intensive digital marketing course that she couldn't get in her MBA program. Working digital marketing leaders from throughout the country were brought in to teach current information necessary for the industry that she says was invaluable. She not only learned the latest application technology but also the language that helped her through the interview process with Kollective. Caisse says the experience improved her chance of making something out of her degree. Once she received a job offer, she was also able to circle back with BendPoly President, Bruce Cleveland, for advice on how to analyze the offer and move forward.
Caisse is one who thinks the Bend labor force is changing to meet the demands of the tech industry. "I see a lot of people with a lot of heart who will do what it takes to make it in Bend." Not only does she see people like herself moving to Bend in search of a higher quality of life, but she says OSU's four-year university will help increase the talent pool among local residents. "I see the job landscape changing rapidly," she says. She agrees with Senator Wyden's assessment that Bend is on the cusp of becoming a tech mecca. Without all the distractions and lengthy commute times of big cities, Caisse says tech workers are more productive in Bend. "Bend is defining the way it does tech. We're defining a new brand of tech, and it's exciting."
For more information about BendPoly, check the academy's site: bendpoly.com