From Choose Washington 2023 -2024

No Matter the Industry, Washington has the Workers You Need

Washington State’s Centers of Excellence secure a skilled workforce for in-demand industries.

Green River College in Auburn
Photo courtesy of Green River College


s the first and only state to codify Centers of Excellence into state statute (HB1323), Washington has cultivated a talent pipeline trained to tackle the most pressing needs for a variety of industries. The state currently boasts 12 Centers of Excellence, each dedicated to a specific sector. 

As liaisons between business and education, the Centers utilize industry input to influence curriculum and curate new resources. The advancements each Center makes not only influence their host college but Washington’s entire network of 34 community and technical colleges. Institutes across the state offer the programs each Center promotes.

Match the numbers next to the following summaries to their corresponding locations on the map on page 32. 

1) Whatcom Community College: The Cybersecurity Center of Excellence 

By investing in technical innovation, resources, professional development, and tools to support faculty, community colleges and the workforce pipeline of tomorrow, the Cybersecurity Center of Excellence is advancing education in this industry. 


Washington State Centers of Excellence

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Match the numerals above with the numbered citations in this article.

Map courtesy of the Center of Excellence for Semiconductors & Electronic Manufacturing


The program boasts a wide variety of degree pathways including Bachelor of Science Computer Science, Bachelor of Applied Science Cybersecurity, Bachelor of Applied Science IT Cybersecurity and Networking Administration, associate in applied science computer and network Systems, associate in applied science systems administration and Associate of Applied Science Network and Infrastructure and Security Support Specialist, among many other programs and certification courses.

2) Skagit Valley College: Northwest Center for Excellence for Marine Manufacturing and Technology 

Blessed with sprawling shores and an expansive system of rivers and streams, Washington’s success in the maritime industry comes quite naturally. Yet to make the most of this natural resource, the state needs workers with a vast array of skillsets. And the NW Center of Excellence for Marine Manufacturing and Technology has got that piece of the puzzle covered. 

The Center diligently works to address workforce demands and update skills standards, ensuring that its students graduate with the knowledge necessary to succeed in their chosen pathway. The experience they gain prepares them for roles shoreside and at sea, including positions as a diver, rigger, naval architect, mechanic, commercial fisherman, welder, electrician, ships engineer, project manager, safety officer and many others. Two percent of jobs in Washington are maritime-related and an additional 3.8% of the workforce supports this industry. 

3) Everett Community College: The Center of Excellence for Aerospace and Advanced Manufacturing

 Since 2004, the Center of Excellence for Aerospace and Advanced Manufacturing has played a vital role in cultivating Washington’s next generation talent pipeline. Statewide, community and technical colleges are giving workers opportunities to garner skills in engineering technology, welding and fabrication, advanced avionics, composites, aviation maintenance technology, precision machining and more. The Center’s home base, Everett Community College, is at the heart of these efforts, offering a wide range of high-demand certificate and degree programs. With resources such as the Advanced Manufacturing Training and Education Center (AMTEC), a 54,000-sq.-ft. training facility equipped with cutting-edge manufacturing technology, students at Everett Community College receive hands-on experience with the latest industry equipment before entering the workforce.  

4) Bellevue College: The Center of Excellence for Information and Computing Technology

Information Technology is one of the most in-demand fields in the country, especially in Washington State. According to GeekWire, the Seattle area alone added 43,190 jobs from 2018 to 2022, marking it a top destination for new tech jobs. 

In order to keep up with this industry’s growing workforce demand, the Center of Excellence in Information and Computing Technology is increasing statewide training opportunities for this sector. Washington’s expansive network of community colleges offers hundreds of short certificates, associate degree and four-year bachelor’s degree programs in in-demand technology skills such as software and application development, cybersecurity, IT support, web design and maintenance, cloud services and more. The Center located at Bellevue College, which is only 10 miles from Seattle, the No. 2 city in America for overall tech talent, enriches its curriculum through the experience and knowledge this atmosphere provides, creating workers that are well prepared to enter the workplace.

5) Renton Technical College: The Construction Center of Excellence 

When it comes to educating the workers of tomorrow, the Construction Center of Excellence puts safety first. Students enrolled in this Center’s program gain hands-on experience in the construction industry, developing essential skills and knowledge to ensure their own wellbeing. With this mission in mind, the Center developed the Toolbox Talks App, a free-to-download resource that contains over 100 safety talks for construction and marine industries in both English and Spanish.

Those interested in beginning a career in the construction industry can find resources through the Center as early as middle and high school. One of the programs the Center promotes is CORE PLUS Construction, an official Washington State program of study that allows high school students to earn graduation credits and gain construction skills.

6) Highline College: The Center of Excellence for Global Trade and Supply Chain Management

Forty percent of all jobs in Washington State are connected to trade. The Center of Excellence for Global Trade and Supply Chain Management is ensuring that this industry’s talent pipeline never runs dry. In order to better support this sector and increase accessibility, the Center is developing a user-friendly jobs dashboard. This resource will display the types of employment in this industry, their average pay, location, necessary skills and information on training programs.


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Allied Health programs prepare students for employment in a variety of healthcare fields.

Photo courtesy of Yakima College 


In addition to this asset, the Center has also helped create various unique opportunities for students such as a hybrid study abroad program. The ‘Follow the Supply Chain Study Abroad Program’ is available to students at Highline College, the Center’s host institute. Through this program, students participate in virtual workshops, visit key companies using the global supply chain in Washington and travel to Vietnam for nine days.

7) Green River College: The Washington State Center of Excellence for Careers in Education

As America experiences a nationwide teacher shortage, assets such as the Center of Excellence for Careers in Education are vital to creating and retaining this industry’s workforce. With three pathways offered — Early Childhood Education, Education Paraprofessionals and Certificated Teacher — students gain a specialized knowledge in the age group they are studying, hands-on experience and insight into the current best teaching practices. 

In order to increase this opportunity’s outreach, the Center has partnered with the Washington Education Association (WEA) and Washington’s native tribes to support the Future Native Teachers Initiative, a teacher training camp for Native American students in Washington that strives to increase the number of Native educators. This partnership aligns with the Center’s, and Washington State’s, commitment to creating a diverse and equitable education system. 

8) Pierce College: The Center of Excellence for Homeland Security and Emergency Management

The Center of Excellence for Homeland Security Emergency Management, better known as the HSEM Center, is providing America with the workers we need to keep our country safe. Those employed in HSEM roles are essential to securing our borders, airports, seaports and waterways. Their outreach includes researching and developing security technologies, preparing for and responding to natural disasters or terrorist attacks, analyzing intelligence reports and many other important duties.  

Through the Center’s career pathways, numerous Washingtonians are acquiring skills in criminal justice, technology and cybersecurity, emergency medical and health services, fire services, homeland security emergency management, occupational safety and health, and unmanned and autonomous systems, preparing them to partake in this essential field.

9) Centralia College: The Pacific Northwest Center of Excellence for Clean Energy

Clean energy projects are popping up all over Washington. And we know why; Washington has the workers this industry needs. 

With the Pacific Northwest Center of Excellence for Clean Energy, Washington is providing expanding companies with workers trained to design, build, operate, and maintain renewable energy plants and equipment. The Center partners with businesses that support emerging clean technologies such as biofuels, EVs, fusion and hydrogen in order to create varying pathways and curriculums that best support this industry and prepare its future workers. This asset is vital to attracting new projects and accelerating the state’s already rampant clean energy economy. 

10) Clark College: The Center of Excellence for Semiconductors & Electronic Manufacturing

As the semiconductor industry ramps up across America, a skilled workforce for this sector is needed now more than ever. By boosting research and developing training programs, the Center of Excellence for Semiconductors & Electronic Manufacturing is working to secure this asset for Washington State, supporting this industry’s rapid growth.


Allied Health programs prepare students for employment in a variety of healthcare fields. Photo courtesy of Yakima College

Clark College broke ground on its new Advanced Manufacturing building at Boschma Farms in Ridgefield on June 12, 2023.

Photo courtesy of Clark College


Located at Clark College, The Center is smack dab in the middle of the Silicon Forest region, which holds the largest high-tech semiconductor and electronics manufacturing projects in the Pacific Northwest area of the United States. In July, Clark College received $1 million in federal funding for the purchase of clean energy technology and the development of a Center for Clean Energy. With this investment, Clark College aims to expand its Mechatronics Technology and Automotive Technology programs. The school also received a $1.5 million federal earmark to aid in the development of the school’s Advanced Manufacturing Center in Ridgefield in March 2022.

11) Yakima Valley College: The Allied Health Center of Excellence 

The Allied Health Center of Excellence (AH COE), hosted at Yakima Valley College, is the statewide resource strengthening Washington’s Health Care System. As this industry encompasses as many as 200 careers, the AH COE constantly works to update its program by identifying emerging technologies and skills gaps. The pathways currently offered throughout Washington include various assistant and technician programs, nursing, pharmacy, optometry, dental hygiene, medical coding, occupational therapy, surgical technology and phlebotomy, among others. Many of these careers are constantly in high demand, with Washington offering competitive wages. This healthy employment climate led the state to be ranked the No.1 Best Place to Work as a Nurse by WalletHub in 2023. The personal finance website compared the 50 states across two categories, “Opportunity & Competition” and “Work Environment,” to reach this conclusion.

12) Walla Walla Community College: The Agriculture & Natural Resources Center of Excellence 

With roughly 39,000 farms, and more than 1,700 forest product companies, agriculture and natural resources make up one of the largest economies in Washington. This industry’s many sectors, such as food production and processing, animal science, and environmental service systems, thrive throughout the state, creating hundreds of opportunities for employment.

The Agriculture and Natural Resources Center of Excellence offers those looking to enter this career path one-of-a-kind hands-on-training experiences. For example, in May 2022, students in the Animal Science Program at the Center’s host institute, Walla Walla Community College, participated in artificially inseminating a cow. They then transferred the calf embryo from the original mother to a surrogate who gave birth to the first calf ever born on campus in January 2023. 

Lindsay Lopp
Associate Editor of Site Selection magazine

Lindsay Lopp joined Conway Data in 2023. She is the assistant editor of the company's Custom Content division and regularly contributes to Site Selection magazine. In 2021, she graduated from Pratt Institute with her BFA in Creative Writing and is currently completing her MFA in Popular Fiction and Publishing at Emerson College.

As the No. 1 state in the nation, Washington’s economic strengths continue to earn top honors and attract new investments.

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