Calling for a Cyber-Secure State


Business leaders advocate for the creation of the Oregon Cyber Center of Excellence to improve cybersecurity education.

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“Cybersecurity isn’t just an issue for computer scientists anymore. It affects all of us, no matter what industry we’re working in,” says David Childers, an entrepreneur with decades of leadership experience in Oregon’s technology industry. He has served as the CEO for Portland heavyweights like EthicsPoint and Compli and is one of many concerned business leaders advocating for the creation of the Oregon Cyber Center of Excellence (OCOE) to prepare a cyber-savvy workforce for unfilled jobs and support over 200 companies across the state through research and training.

OCOE has been carefully developed through close collaboration between diverse stakeholders to ensure the center is effectively designed for the Northwest. The Engineering and Technology Industry Council (ETIC ) has worked closely with the Technology Association of Oregon (TAO) to find ways for industry and academia to effectively collaborate. The two organizations realized there was a serious cybersecurity skills gap in the state’s workforce. For this reason, TAO began exhaustive discussions with industry leaders and discovered a shared concern about cybersecurity and cyber awareness. Since Oregon is one of only five states lacking a cyber center for academic excellence, TAO began championing the call for OCOE.

While still in the embryonic stage, OCOE has a clear direction for the next biennium as it seeks government funding. The response from the state’s industry and academic leaders has been overwhelmingly positive, and a number of trade associations have given their support to the center (including the Oregon Entrepreneurs Network, the Oregon Broadband Advisory Council and the Oregon Badge Alliance). A broad coalition of leaders emphasize how OCOE can be responsive to industry, help universities train a cyber-savvy workforce and drive economic growth across the state. 

Laura McKinney, executive director of ETIC, says the new center “is an opportunity for us to be responsive to industry and become a resource to help deal with cybersecurity issues.” ETIC was established in 1997 by the state government to enhance the competitiveness of Oregon’s businesses through investments in post-secondary engineering and technology education. McKinney suggests that a cyber center can help businesses by promoting cybersecurity awareness and disseminating best practices. 

“I see this as a 21st-century cybersecurity alternative to a proven agricultural extension program,” says McKinney. Agricultural extension refers to the practical application of scientific research through educating farmers. McKinney suggests OCOE can serve a similar function for the state’s business community by expanding cybersecurity education beyond technical disciplines.

TAO also believes that OCOE can help Oregon become a leader in cybersecurity education by helping education institutions train graduates prepared to work in a cyber-secure workplace. “We are a high-tech state, and, per capita, one of the top high-tech states in the nation,” says Terri Fiez, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Oregon State University. “In order to support industry, we need to have strong universities to help build our local expertise.” 

Fiez sees the proposed cyber center as one way to increase focus on cybersecurity research in Oregon. “This is an opportunity to create a more synergistic partnership between universities and industry,” she says. “It will allow us, as a state, to better compete for research funding.”

Industry leaders like Serge Leef echo Fiez’s sentiments. Leef, vice president of new ventures at Mentor Graphics, suggests that the center could help universities focus on innovative areas of research like security in the emerging Internet of Things (defined as the interconnection of uniquely identifiable devices within the existing Internet infrastructure). “The area is ripe,” Leef says. “But we need to focus on pragmatic education that is responsive to employers so we can drive innovation.”

Another hope for the proposed cyber center is that it will make the Oregon economy more competitive. “We want better jobs for Oregonians, and our state is well positioned to succeed in this area,” says Heather Anderson, chief operating officer at Automated Serendipity and former director of strategic integration at the U.S. Department of Defense. “The question is whether we can teach our workforce more skills and better skills to help them thrive.” 

Anderson sees potential for Oregon to be a national leader in cybersecurity. “The tech community in Oregon is pretty accessible. There is a shared sense of purpose, and Oregonians seem to like the fact that they can do well by doing good,” observes Anderson. She contrasts the attitude among industry leaders in Oregon with other places she has worked in the United States and Europe. Comparatively, she sees how the cyber center could build on this shared sense of purpose. “People pitch in here,” she says. “That mentality is crucial to our success.” 

For Childers, OCOE is all about creating meaningful jobs and an advanced, inclusive economy. “We have the industry and the educational infrastructure. We just need focus,” he says. “The bottom line is that this is about better jobs and creating a place where people want to work and learn.” 

Visit to champion the call for OCOE and help make Oregon a leader in cybersecurity.