Vancouver pursues innovation zone plan

State programs aims to attract digital technology, jobs

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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The city of Vancouver signaled to the state Department of Commerce on Monday it wants to take the lead in establishing an Innovation Partnership Zone for applied digital technology in an effort to bring jobs to the area.

The IPZ program was created by the state in 2007 to stimulate industry growth in specific geographic areas and spur cooperation among local government, private business and higher education. Out of 15 zones statewide, none in Western Washington are south of Tacoma. In southern Washington, none are east of Tri-Cities.

Chad Eiken, the city's director of community and economic development, told the Vancouver City Council on Monday the city's key partners in the effort are the city of Camas, Sharp Laboratories of America, Wacom, Woobox, Washington State University Vancouver, Clark College, the Columbia River Economic Development Council, Camas-Washougal Economic Development Association and the Southwest Washington Workforce Development Council.

The designation lasts four years and can be extended.

Walla Walla, for example, has an IPZ for wine and hospitality. Spokane has an IPZ for health care and energy research, and the Tri-Cities have one for clean energy and energy storage. Tacoma received an IPZ for urban clean water.

'Discovery' expired

A previous IPZ in Clark County for the "Discovery Corridor" expired and was not renewed, Eiken said. The Columbia River Economic Development Council took the lead on that IPZ, which was geared to bringing tech businesses to Salmon Creek and other unincorporated areas along Interstate 5. But those areas lacked sufficient infrastructure, Eiken said, and the idea never took off the way backers hoped.

While an IPZ designation doesn't ensure grant money, it would give the area a competitive edge when funding becomes available, said City Manager Eric Holmes. Currently, there's no state money available for IPZ grants but there's federal tech grants to help pay for infrastructure.

The designation will also make WSU Vancouver and Clark College eligible for grants, said Sandra Towne, the city's planning and policy manager.

Targeted areas for businesses would be in downtown, the waterfront and both sides of Southeast

192nd Avenue.

Towne said there are already 18 small software developers, including Woobox, in downtown Vancouver.

Eiken said the city submitted its application to the state on Monday. The city spent $15,000 on consultants to fill out the application, he said, which had been budgeted by the council.

In addition to hopefully winning grant money, goals of establishing an Innovation Partnership Zone include helping brand the area as a great location for digital technology companies and training the local workforce accordingly.

IPZ applicants will be notified Aug. 1 if they meet the threshold to continue in the application process, and Gov. Jay Inslee will announce IPZ designations on Oct. 1.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com