Designation gives Camas, Vancouver a technology boost

Innovation Partnership Zone provides leverage in seeking grant money

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter

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Regional economic development leaders have long pushed to further diversify Clark County's business landscape into a knowledge-based economy, one studded with high-tech companies, growing research facilities and highly-skilled workers.

On Tuesday, they got Washington state government's official blessing to step up their efforts. The state Department of Commerce named portions of Vancouver and Camas as an Innovation Partnership Zone, or IPZ. It's an important designation, in part, because it gives the region additional leverage in seeking grant dollars to help pay for projects aimed at growing digital technology industries.

The targeted areas of the region's Vancouver-Camas IPZ — officially dubbed the Applied Digital Technology Accelerator — are in Vancouver's downtown and waterfront, as well as both sides of Southeast 192nd Avenue.

Chad Eiken, director of community and economic development for the city of Vancouver, which is leading the IPZ effort, said the designation opens several possibilities. One is to secure funding to install additional fiber-optic cable. "We've got a pretty good jump-start on it," he said, noting there are "400 miles of fiber here in Vancouver and Camas." But the city has heard from businesses that more would be welcome, Eiken said.

Another possibility: Using the IPZ to develop incubator space, Eiken said, "where newly minted grad students can come and work with new companies." The IPZ's overall goal, he said, is to "establish a framework fostering collaboration between higher learning institutions and businesses, (to) develop new technologies (and) to create a steady supply of locally trained talent and the jobs for them to land in."

The zone for portions of Vancouver and Camas was one of three new ones announced by the Washington state Department of Commerce. There are now 18 IPZs statewide. Walla Walla, for example, has an IPZ for wine and hospitality. Spokane has an IPZ for health care and energy research, and there's one for clean energy and energy storage in the Tri-Cities.

The zones are a "shining example" of statewide efforts to create partnerships between the public and private sectors, Gov. Jay Inslee said in a news release.

City has partners

The IPZ program was created by the state in 2007 to stimulate industry growth in specific geographic areas and to spur cooperation among local government, private business and higher education.

The designation lasts four years and can be extended. The program includes an accountability piece, Eiken said. "If the state doesn't see progress on the goals within that four years, (the IPZ) won't be renewed," he added.

The city's key partners in working to make the new IPZ a success are: the city of Camas, 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.

Eiken said other IPZs have achieved success in securing state grants and grants from foundations. To financially support the Vancouver-Camas Applied Digital Technology Accelerator, he said, leaders will produce a capitalization plan within six to nine months.

The IPZ hands the city and its partners another tool to use in helping implement a countywide business growth plan. That plan, commissioned in 2010 by the Columbia River Economic Development Council, was finalized in 2011. It calls for aggressive, collaborative actions, including establishing Clark County as an information-technology hub; expanding the influence of WSUV and of Clark College in the local economy, including building a business-oriented university research park; and growing existing businesses, recruiting companies and promoting entrepreneurship in target industries such as technology services and products.

A previous IPZ in Clark County for the Discovery Corridor expired and was not renewed.