GTA Report: Tech Jobs Bring High Wages to the Gorge

The Gorge Technology Alliance (GTA) recently collected data about the economic impact of the unmanned aerial system (UAS) industry in the region. Within the GTA’s five county area of Hood River, Wasco and Sherman counties in Oregon and Klickitat and Skamania counties in Washington, GTA companies who work in or supply the UAS industry employ just over 1000 people with an average annual pay of around $68,000 in 2012. “While many people know about Insitu and their impact on the region,” says GTA Executive Director Jessica Metta, “we wanted to pull together this information to help shed light on the full impact of all Gorge companies working in the industry and the importance of tech jobs here.” Other UAS companies and those who supply the industry in the region include Aerovel, American Aerospace Engineering, Cloud Cap Technology, Hood Technology, Sagetech Corporation, Sightline Applications, Trillium Engineering, Custom Interface Inc., Innovative Composite Engineering, Prigel Machine and Fabrication, Real Carbon and Zepher. While some suppliers, such as Innovative Composite Engineering, have a small percentage of their overall business dedicated to UAS, others have a majority of their production focused on UAS. “Since the $68,000 figure is an average, there are employees making more and less than that. Some of our tech companies offer nationally competitive salaries (which are high for the region) for jobs they recruit for nationally, such as engineers,” says Metta.

The GTA worked with the Oregon and Washington Employment Departments to collect data about payroll and employment for other well‐known industries in the Gorge in order to draw comparisons. Tourism and agriculture have much larger employment numbers regionally, at around 4,200 and 5,600 respectively, but their average pay is much lower. Average annual pay in tourism jobs is only about $17,000 while agriculture employment averages $24,000 annually. Health care jobs are also significant in the region with 4,400 employees in 2012. Although these are some of the highest paid jobs available regionally, averaging about $44,000 annually, this figure is still far below the average annual pay of the UAS companies and suppliers.

“The reason in part why this region has done better than state averages during this last recession is because of the diversity in our economy,” says Metta. “Tourism, agriculture, health care, high tech – all the industries in the region are important to keeping the economy moving.” She went on to note how the regional thinking in economic development has helped move the Gorge to this positive place. “The work by Mid-Columbia Economic Development District in particular to help diversify the region’s economy and start groups like the Gorge Tech Alliance is a benefit to the region.”

Currently, the GTA is starting work with Mid‐Columbia Economic Development District (MCEDD) on a new grant MCEDD was awarded from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, known as the Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership. The purpose of the grant is to further diversify the region’s manufacturers, focused on the UAS companies and value‐added food manufacturers. GTA Executive Director Jessica Metta also recently joined the Board of the Oregon UAS Business Enterprise, a new organization that received a grant from the Oregon Innovation Council to grow the UAS industry in Oregon. “With much of Oregon’s UAS business happening in the Gorge, it’s a great way to keep our local companies connected with state initiatives.” Much of the heightened focus on the UAS industry is in preparation for an announcement expected by the end of the year from the Federal Aviation Administration designating six UAS test sites in the nation as part of the path to integrate UAS into the national air space.

The Gorge Technology Alliance is a nonprofit professional organization that supports, connects and develops the broadly‐defined technology community of the Columbia River Gorge, from the UAS companies to software developers, website builders, advanced manufacturers, IT and telecom providers. The GTA does this through networking and educational events, workforce development and business support and promotion. Since 2009, the GTA has also supported youth technology education in the Gorge through robotics and will again be hosting the FIRST LEGO League tournaments in The Dalles and Hood River in December.

Learn more about the GTA at or contact Jessica Metta with questions at 541‐296‐2266.

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