British officials make trade pitch in Vancouver

Chamber hosts three officials who hope to refresh longtime ties

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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photoRobin Twyman established the United Kingdom’s office for business and government affairs in Seattle earlier this year.

(/The Columbian)

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About 13,000 Washington jobs are supported by British companies with investments in the state.

A British trading power set up shop in Vancouver almost 190 years ago.

"It was a pretty successful arrangement," noted Kelly Parker, executive director of the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce. "We're really excited about the future."

With that in mind, the group hosted three British consular officials Tuesday in a discussion about refreshing that profitable economic relationship.

Local business, education and development leaders welcomed Priya Guha, the British consul general in San Francisco; vice consul Robin Newmann; and Robin Twyman, consul at the British Government Office in Seattle.

The meeting in the Marshall House on Officers Row took place half a mile north of a waving British flag. The Union Jack was flying from the flag pole at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, which celebrates the Hudson's Bay Company fur-trading empire of the early 1800s.

These days, the engines of economic empires include digital technology, energy innovations, biological sciences and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education.

There already are some well-established trans-Atlantic business relationships, Guha observed. The United States and the United Kingdom have invested $1 trillion in each other's economy.

"One million people wake up each day in the United Kingdom and go to work for a U.S. company," the British consul said. "And, one million people wake up each morning in the U.S. and go to work for a British company."

Tuesday's gathering was about directing some of that activity toward Southwest Washington, and that's where Twyman might be a player in Clark County's business scene.

"This is a great moment for us," Twyman said. Although he describes himself as a one-man office, "We're the first European government presence in Washington."

Twyman opened the Seattle office in January and now is getting a chance to network outside the Puget Sound area.

"Without permanent boots on the ground, it's easy to look in, or around, Seattle," he said, with its innovation leaders including the University of Washington, Bill Gates and the Hutchinson Cancer Center.

Now he can reach out to other higher-ed systems around the state, Twyman said, such as Washington State University — which includes a Vancouver campus.

WSU Vancouver will be a productive partner, said Chancellor Mel Netzhammer. That is due, in part, to an even wider educational partnership that includes local K-12 schools and Clark College.

As far as new businesses moving in, this also is a region with cheap and reliable power. It's at the hub of a freeway-Columbia River-rail transport network, the visitors were told.

"We're positioned well to meet the needs of tech companies," said Lisa Nisenfeld, president of the Columbia River Economic Development Council.

And, there are 60,000 Clark County residents who commute to work each day in the Portland area, "who'd rather stay home," Nisenfeld said.