Employee Spotlight: Crystal Cuellar @ Silicon Forest Electronics

photo of Crystal CuellarThis month’s Employee Spotlight focuses on the production floor at Silicon Forest Electronics, where Crystal Cuellar is the Senior Lead in production of printed circuit board assembly. Silicon Forest Electronics employs 98 people, and Crystal has been working there for 16 years. She first heard about Silicon Forest Electronics through her daughter’s participation in the Big Brothers Big Sisters Program in Vancouver, where her daughter was matched as a sister into another family that personally recommended Silicon Forest Electronics as a great workplace. 

When asked what she appreciates the most about her employer, Crystal replied that it was, “the time and training that Silicon Forest Electronics provides to employees so that they can be promoted in-house. The company’s practice of offering opportunities to learn new skills and to advance in one’s career has helped the company to grow successfully.”

Crystal Cuellar at workAs a production lead, it is Crystal’s responsibility to keep communication flowing between the production crew, the Customer Focus Teams, and Engineers. She manages both the people and the product as it moves through the production floor, ensuring that the highest quality product goes out to customers. 

Crystal Cuellar takes pride in her work and the work of her production team. She finds it especially satisfying to see the growth and development of the company’s newer hires as the demand for Silicon Forest Electronics’ services continues to grow.

While Crystal herself is not personally active at the GTA’s social events, she appreciates that much of the demand for Silicon Forest Electronics’ products comes from fellow GTA companies. Her personal work ethic demands that the quality of products and the service provided by Silicon Forest Electronics has a positive and profound impact for every customer.  

Fun Fact! If Crystal could have one meal with anyone, she would choose Hannibal Lector, a character from the movie Silence of the Lambs, and she would make liver with some Fava beans and a nice Chianti.

Silicon Forest Electronics logoSilicon Forest Electronics

6204 East 18th Street

Vancouver, WA 98661


email: sfesales@si-forest.com

website: siliconforestelectronics.com



GTA Board of Directors Welcomes Two New Members

Gorge Tech Alliance members and sponsors recently had the opportunity to vote for new Board members in an online election. Congratulations and welcome to our two newest Board members: Jaime Mack, CEO/CTO of Zepher Inc. and Rachel McKay, VP of Product Operations at Overwatch Imaging.

  • Jaime has been an active member in the Gorge technical community for many years. She was originally drawn to the Gorge to work in the composites industry, but quickly transitioned to Insitu, becoming one of the first 50 employees. Her career has grown with the Gorge and her businesses: Zepher and Zepher Flight Laboratories. As an engineer turned CTO then CED, Jamie has firsthand experience of the rapid growth, both technically and economically, in our community. She has supported both friends and colleagues in their efforts to grow their own businesses and expand into new markets. As a business owner, she experiences the triumphs and challenges of running a high-tech community in a rural area amid the economic boom/bust times, in addition to the challenges of the COVID pandemic. She volunteers in the community and proudly assists with the MakerSpace in White Salmon. Through grants, she has developed and sustained a non-profit STEM program that incorporates science education and sailing, the Gorge Junior Sailing program.

  • As the VP of Product Operations at Overwatch Imaging, as well as in her prior role as the Chief Systems Engineer at Insitu, Rachel worked to connect, support, and develop our tech community in the Columbia River Gorge. She has exhibited this commitment within the industry through coaching and mentoring employees and co-workers, internationally during speaking events within the Leading Ladies of Aerospace group, as being on the Board for Aviation Women Inspiring the Next Generation (AWING). Locally she volunteers her time as the Chief Science Officer for a STEAM group at Wy’East Middle School and prepared content for the local Gorge Career Challenge last year. Rachel is excited to take a more formal step in supporing the high-tech cluster of the Gorge by serving on the GTA Board.

These two new members will add even more talent and skill to the GTA Board, and we are thrilled to have them on the team. A special thank you to three Executive Committee Board members who are completing two terms this year and have been integral in achieving the goals of our strategic plan: Steve Olson, SightLine Applications, Greg Davis, Overwatch Imaging, and Lori Nelson, Housecall Providers.


Employee Spotlight: Kate Wurster, Columbia Gorge STEM Hub Coordinator

Kate Wurster photo Kate Wurster was recently hired as the STEM Hub Coordinator at CGESD in October, 2022 as a natural fit, with her love of language and communication and her extensive background in education.

As a Fulbright Scholar with degrees in German and Education, Kate first got involved in education professionally when she taught English to primary and secondary students in Hamburg, Germany. After that, her path progressed through community colleges in Maine and in Colorado. Moving to the Gorge with her husband Pete and son Chase, her skills and talent led her to Hood River Valley High School where she served as the Career Connected Learning Coordinator.  In this role, Kate collaborated with CTE teachers at the high school to build robust post-secondary pathways between HRVHS and CGCC, by creating meaningful workplace-based experiences for students.  Her engagement with CGCC led her to new professional opportunities at the College, where she continued to champion the value of CTE programming to help serve local workforce and employment needs.  

Kate believes in the power and importance of good communication in all aspects of her life – personal and professional. She is fluent in written and spoken German and hosts a monthly German language conversation group called Stammtisch at Crush Cider Cafe in Hood River.  She is also inspired by nature and embraces all that the Gorge has to offer – trail running, skiing, hiking, stand up paddle boarding and exploring the beautiful landscape the Gorge has to offer. 

Kate’s aspirations include travelling and living abroad with her family for a couple of years so that they can fully immerse themselves in another language and culture.  When asked what her favorite meal would be to share with her favorite celebrity, she had no hesitation in replying, “I would love to have had dinner with Ruth Bader Ginsburg or with Michelle Obama – sharing a Mediterranean dish with chicken kabobs and tzatziki, pita bread and hummus, falafel, and a delicious Turkish coffee would be (would have been) amazing!”

Kate and family in RockiesWurster family photo








In her Coordinator role, Kate’s primary focus is in Career Connected Learning initiatives (career awareness, exploration, preparation & training) at the middle and high school (bridging post-secondary) levels.  She thoroughly enjoys her role of “matchmaker” within the STEM sector, stating,  “I find it most rewarding to work with educators to identify their career-connected learning needs.   I then determine what the best fit (which company and/or professional mentor) will best to supplement the educator’s curriculum with real-world expertise and context.   The matchmaking step involves networking with industry contacts to open the pathways where the needs meet.”

Kate is eager to collaborate with educators, students and families, as well as community & industry partners in the region to provide opportunity and access to Career Connected Learning activities and programming. She has found the Gorge to be an amazingly dynamic and rewarding place to work in Career Connected Learning, commenting, “When it comes to leveraging industry/ education connections, for a relatively small and rural region, the diversity of industry represented here, and the willingness for industry to engage and support local youth, is very impressive! “

Kate’s major work initiatives for the STEM Hub include the College and Career Expo and the Advanced Manufacturing Educator Externship. Last year’s College and Career Expo event had approximately 150 students representing 11 different high schools in the region, including WA schools in Klickitat & Skamania Counties.  The Advanced Manufacturing Educator Externship is a 3-day, experiential externship focused on the Advanced Manufacturing sector (including a hands-on introduction to CGCC’s Advanced Manufacturing program by the College’s lead instructors and site visits to a variety of local manufacturing employers in Hood River & Wasco County on days 2 & 3).

The GTA provides a crucial link to the local high tech industry for the STEM Hub. It provides a platform for networking opportunities with local industry partners that is essential for the work of Career Connected Learning in the region. Plus, industry awareness around the work of the STEM Hub is necessary for the success of the STEM Hub’s programs, and the GTA provides the link to leverage the participation and support of local tech companies.



400 E Scenic Dr. #207
The Dalles, OR 97058

The Columbia Gorge STEM Hub is a program of the Columbia Gorge Education Service District, serving as the “connective tissue” between families, students, educators and industry throughout the Gorge’s five Oregon counties (Hood River, Gilliam, Sherman, Wasco and Wheeler) as well as Klickitat and Skamania counties in Washington (through partnership with Career Connect Southwest WA).

The STEM Hub is a small but mighty team of three, focused on increasing equitable access to quality STEM experiences in our region. The STEM Hub walks its talk, modeling its goals of equity and quality of life for its employees by offering a hybrid work schedule that allows flexibility and a healthy work-life balance.

To learn more about all that the Hub has to offer, visit the website at: https://www.gorgestem.org/

GTA Board Nominations Are Now Open

Annual Board Elections are upon us! The regular Board elections will be held the second week of April 2023. Any member or sponsor who has been in good standing with the GTA for at least one year is eligible to apply. GTA members in all fields and positions (including marketing, design, production, and remote workers) are encouraged to apply, especially those identifying as women, identifying as BIPOC, and any others traditionally underrepresented in STEM fields
To be included on the Ballot, please email kristyn@crgta.org answering the following questions:
  1. Name
  2. Email
  3. With which GTA member or sponsor are you affiliated?
  4. What is your role in your organization?
  5. Please give a brief (~one paragraph) message to voters explaining who you are and why you would like to serve on the GTA Board.
There are three (3) vacancies coming up this spring due to the two-term limit.  The time commitment required is generally one  1.5 hour Board meeting occurring every other month on Wednesday, from 3 – 4:30pm.  Each term is 3 years, with a two-term limit.
Please reply with interest or questions by 5pm on March 31st.  Nominations will close at 5pm on Monday, April 3, 2023.

Oregon Employee Advancement Grant Opportunity

This funding opportunity, from East Cascade Works, was designed to support your company in both employee retention and recruitment. Employee Advancement and Assistance Grants are for employers within the ten counties EC Works serves, including Hood River, Wasco, Sherman, and Gillam Counties, who are looking for resources to support training and upskilling for their current workforce. EC Works will fund applications (until funds are depleted) that present an opportunity for employers to build and maintain a quality workforce while creating new employment opportunities.

This opportunity will pay particular attention to training that provides current employees an opportunity for advancement and wage gains within their company, as well as those that create opportunities to backfill positions with new employees. Employers are encouraged to partner with their local WorkSource center to identify potential candidates for backfill opportunities.

Click here to learn more and apply for this grant

Mid-Columbia Innovation Hub Survey

Mid-Columbia Economic Development District has partnered with consultants from EcoNorthwest to begin exploring assets of the Gorge to develop an Innovation Hub. The Mid-Columbia region prides itself on having a broad network of support for those starting or growing a business. This study is to help identify any gaps in that system as part of larger Regional Innovation Hub project programming. The larger goal of this study is to foster innovation in the region by helping companies that develop new technologies, products or processes. Understanding what structural barriers exist and what could be done to reduce them will help entrepreneurs spend less time navigating the system and more time building their business. 
This survey will take ten minutes to complete. Results will be used by service providers and their funders to understand how to best serve you and those in your community. Please email kristyn@mcedd.org with any questions.

Alternative Commuting Options in the Gorge

If you weren’t able to make it to the special Human Resources virtual meeting this month, it doesn’t mean your company has to miss out on the amazing information we shared! We connected with Kim Curley, Commute Options, and Kathy Fitzpatrick, Gorge TransLink Alliance, about alternative commuting options for employees in our region and exciting upcoming subsidy opportunities. Below you will find information about vanpools, carpools, and more that are available (or will soon be available) in our region.

Recruiting and retaining employees can be a challenge, and work satisfaction today plays a big role. That includes the commute, which for many onsite employees has become longer and more costly. Bring your workforce a smarter way to commute with vanpooling. Vanpools let employees (typically 4-15) who live near each other and have longer commutes (about 20+ miles) share the ride to work and the costs. It’s a win-win that makes employee commutes better, serves as a retention and recruitment tool, and helps achieve other business goals.

  • Vanpool – Commute Options – This is an example program that explains the vanpool subsidy in Central Oregon (Crook, Deschutes, Jefferson counties). This is the TYPE of program that will be coming to the gorge later this year through The Link and CAT. 
  • Get There Oregon – Find and share a ride! – Free to anyone over the age of 18 who lives/works in Oregon. Individuals register on the tool and can utilize the trip planning for transit, carpool, and bike/walk trips. You can further engage using Get There by signing up for the Get There Rewards program (for worksites in Oregon) where employees earn rewards for choosing transportation options (TO). 
  • Home – Get There Southwest WA – The service area for this program is still being researched and will be announced soon!

If you’d like more information, you can download this PDF or reach out via email to Kim or Kathy.



Evan Leglar

Employee Spotlight: Evan Leglar @ Zepher, Inc.

Evan LeglarMeet Evan Leglar, a Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineer at Zepher, Inc. where he provides technical support for product development. His work spans from helping customers directly to refine their concepts into manufacturable products, to providing operational support for existing customers and product lines. In a typical day, he floats between progressing a design project, to developing assembly plans for a contract manufacturing job, to helping scope a new design project for a customer in need.

Evan first learned about Zepher when he was in school at Oregon State in Corvallis, by meeting some folks from the GTA at a career fair booth. He also had a friend who had just interned at Zepher the year prior. Between the interesting work he heard about from his friend and the allure of the gorge, he was excited to make the move from Hillsboro, OR.

When asked about what he appreciates most about his work at Zepher, Evan talked about the wide variety and opportunities in the scope of his work. Ranging from helping standup operations for design services, to leading projects across various ground support equipment types to dipping into the world of hydrogen energy. His exposure to the wide variety of customer and product types that comes from being in the design services world has given him the chance to learn a tremendous amount about the aerospace industry, as well as how to support external partners in the product development process.

See Evan’s LinkedIn Page to learn more about his interests, skills, and award-winning innovative achievements. 

New Product Introduction Preparations

Zepher Inc LogoAbout the Company 

Zepher works with the design, development, and manufacturing of aerospace ground support and testing equipment. In addition to traditional manufacturing services, Zepher has been developing machining and metrology capabilities along with mechanical design services to allow the company to service more of their products’ lifecycle, to improve the overall speed of production, and to improve the chances that the products will make it to market. In support of Zepher Flight Labs, Zepher has been building competence in the budding Hydrogen Aviation market with the design and integration of the hardware needed to support H2 fueled flight.

Zepher’s participation in the GTA grows from the company’s interest in sharing knowledge and in growing with other companies in the gorge. The GTA provides presence in the broader technology industry that increases opportunity and ability for the Gorge’s small companies to offer high quality careers and world class products in the U.S.

For employees like Evan, the ability to attend live events promises a great opportunity to meet interesting local tech professionals and learn about gorge-made products.

Quick Links Contact Evan directly! Contact Zepher, Inc
www.zepherinc.com Evan.Leglar@Zepherinc.com 310 Larch St.
https://crgta.org/zepher-inc/ evanleglar@gmail.com Bingen, WA 98605
  Linkedin.com/Evan Leglar  
    PO Box 2158
    White Salmon, WA 98672




Employee Spotlight: Justin Gradek @ OMEP


Meet Justin Gradek, OMEP’s consultant assigned to cover the Columbia River Gorge Region. Justin has been with OMEP for six years as a Senior Manufacturing Consultant. Justin consults with manufacturers around the state on a wide range of topics including capacity growth, strategy, facility layout, and equipment selection. He also does design work and coaching when called for. A portion of his time is spent on advancing manufacturing CTE programs with educators around the state.

Justin loves the flexibility in his work with OMEP. He appreciates that the agency’s mission and work style allows it’s employees to work with clients and on projects that the employees themselves are passionate about. For Justin, his work with companies in the Gorge to help create economic prosperity in the community where he lives is more than simply a professional goal – it is a personal goal as well.

“I’ve lived in The South, big cities on the east coast, California, and Europe – and there is nowhere as beautiful as the Pacific Northwest and The Gorge specifically. I also find the people of the west to embody a lot of the ruggedness and perseverance that I imagine it took to establish farming and industry on this land a couple hundred years ago. The Northwest has a lot of opportunity for people looking to build a good life while trying something new, and I think that’s me.” 

Picture of Justin and partner Monica Gulley and 3 sons, taken at home in Hood River summer 2022

When asked to give an example of something innovative, progressive, or exciting in his work, Justin described OMEP’s “Ready or Not” business simulation. This 4-hour, in-person group exercise gives teams of 5-8 people leadership roles within a fictional company in order to collaboratively make decisions and investments to grow the company based on the strategy they create. Teams compete against each other during this event, and it is interesting, educational and fun. OMEP has delivered this simulation to groups as large as 300 people and as small as 30. His current work involves adapting the simulation to be incorporated into Portland Public Schools’ CTE programs, as well as around the state at various institutions throughout 2023. This simulation is good context for much of the work that OMEP does, and Justin encourages people to go through the exercise whenever possible.

About the Company

Oregon Manufacturing Extension Partnership OMEP is best described as a “Public Non-profit” funded through NIST grants, Business Oregon state funding, and client fees. OMEP is part of the nation-wide NIST Manufacturing Extension Partnership program, the goal of which is to advance small and medium-sized manufacturing by making business consulting available to this specific industry demographic. 

OMEP has a staff of about 20 consultants based around the state. Each consultant has specialized expertise in manufacturing and a broad network of generalist skills to assist manufacturers in current and pressing challenges. The companies we work with span aerospace, medical devices, food products, assembly, construction, and primary wood and metal processing. If a company uses a process to change a product, then OMEP can likely work with them. 

The range of expertise that OMEP consultants deliver fits into three broad categories:

  1. Manufacturing operations: including lean manufacturing and continuous improvement, manufacturing engineering, and technology solutions.
  2. Business Financials and Strategy: mastering financial understanding, understanding growth services, and developing strategies for success.
  3. Workforce Solutions: examining the organization’s structure and alignment, leadership and employee development, and recruiting onboarding and training.

OMEP joined the GTA with goals that are both broad and specific: to contribute to the local economy directly by helping companies who can benefit from our expertise, and to contribute indirectly by partnering with organizations that advance manufacturing through technology-focused training, working with educators to expose the next generation of workers to manufacturing opportunities, and facilitating groups working on challenges that are tangent to manufacturing.

OMEP Office

Online appointments and Onsite services

7650 SW Beveland St. #170

Portland, OR 97223


Phone: 503-406-3770

Contact Justin directly!

Email: jgradek@omep.org

phone: 661.203.2273

Quick Links


GTA Website>OMEP

Application Period for the 2023 Corwin Hardham Memorial Scholarship is Now Closed!

Corwin Hardham Scholarship Applic

Applications for the 2023 Corwin Hardham Memorial Scholarship are now OPEN. This scholarship is awarded annually to Gorge high school seniors pursuing post-secondary degrees in the fields of science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM). Eligible students are those from Hood River, Wasco, Sherman, Skamania, and Klickitat Counties who are graduating from high school, home school, or receiving a GED in the spring/ summer.

The 2023 Scholarship Application period is now closed.

Learn more about Corwin Hardham and this scholarship in his honor here.

Please contact Kristyn Fix with questions.

Please consider a donation now to help the GTA continue supporting the next generation of STEM-focused leadership in the Gorge! The fund is held at the Gorge Community Foundation. CLICK HERE and select the “Corwin Hardham Memorial Scholarship Fund” for receipt of your tax-deductible donation.