WHITE CITY — Southern Oregon's economic future may well rest on the ability of competing entities, like businesses, nonprofit organizations and government agencies, to find common ground and feed off shared strengths.

WHITE CITY — Southern Oregon's economic future may well rest on the ability of competing entities, like businesses, nonprofit organizations and government agencies, to find common ground and feed off shared strengths.

Business and government leaders were encouraged to pursue collaborative efforts to both improve competitive positions and develop the region's workforce during a Business Clusters and Consortia Conference held Monday. Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development Inc. hosted the event at Rogue Community College's Table Rock Campus.

Clusters enable businesses to compete by promoting common interests and putting themselves in a better position to attract public sector support, said SOREDI Executive Director Ron Fox. Clusters help clarify the nature of competition and open up sources that provide competitive advantages.

A panel representing heavy-lift helicopter companies, lean manufacturing and enterprise, drug-free firms, health care and a cutting-edge workforce development group shared their cooperative efforts with the audience.

Brian Beattie, assistant general manager and operations director at Croman Corp., said 90 percent of the nation's heavy-lift helicopter capacity is handled by Oregon companies. Many of the firms got their start in logging, but have moved into fire support and other venues in recent years.

When a group of seven companies gathered for the first time earlier this year, they identified the need for more trained employees. Every new helicopter that goes into service requires an additional 10 to 20 employees, he said.

It became apparent following Hurricane Katrina that the use of helicopters was poorly coordinated and there was a need for the companies to push for coordinated efforts. He said the Federal Emergency Management Agency needed to follow the approach used by the Department of Interior and the Agriculture Department on forestlands.

In the health care arena, Tamara Nordin, director of human resources at Pacific Retirement Services, said high demand for trained health care workers led hospitals, long-term care, assisted-living and foster-care centers to rob one another's staffs in the past.

In 2000, Nordin said, 70 health care firms were invited to meet about ways to solve the shortage. Out of that effort, a smaller group emerged that paved the way for fast-track certification. She said 73 percent of the CNA candidates were placed and all the collaborators got a piece of the pie, which encouraged the group to keep working together.

After that, the group developed simulated training centers for nurse's aides, licensed practical nurses and registered nurses at Rogue Valley Medical Center and Rogue Community College.

Lee Lanphier presented a new strategy called Power Up, which targets developing new skills among underemployed workers who have shown themselves reliable.

"Traded-sector businesses are our lifeblood," Lanphier said. "We've talked to 50 critical traded sector companies and we asked them about their needs. What we found was that they had a couple thousand jobs that needed filled."

The issues, however, is that trained or qualified workers aren't available.

"We've got to change this," he said. "We need to focus on the underemployed."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail business@mailtribune.com.