Clark County’s push to diversify its economy by nurturing digitally savvy startups and by growing existing high-tech employers is no secret. Whether it succeeds is an open question.
But no one will accuse the region’s business and government leaders of lacking optimism, excitement and a plan.
That was evident Thursday evening during an invitation-only event, backed by the Columbia River Economic Development Council and others, held in downtown Vancouver at Gravitate, the digital marketing and design company.
Everyone from business executives and Washington State University Vancouver students to Vancouver and Camas city leaders packed Gravitate’s offices for Southwest Washington’s first-ever “Digital Innovation Showcase” affair.
It was a time to network, show off state-of-the-art products and to tout the recent crowning of parts of Vancouver and Camas as an Innovation Partnership Zone, or IPZ — all in the name of encouraging the region to carve a bigger and more distinctive place for itself in the global tech sector.
Kevin Kussman, associate vice president of corporate and continuing education at Clark College, joined the festivities. “It’s a feeling that we’ve got something going on,” he said.
‘Just a start’
One part of what’s going on is the Innovation Partnership Zone.
The Washington state Department of Commerce granted the designation on Oct. 1 to portions of Vancouver and Camas. It opens possibilities for funding of additional fiber-optic cable and development of a business incubator to develop technologies and talent.
The Vancouver-Camas IPZ, one of 18 such zones in the state, is called the Applied Digital Technology Accelerator. It includes Vancouver’s downtown and waterfront, as well as both sides of Southeast 192nd Avenue.
The city of Vancouver is leading the IPZ effort. Its partners 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.
The designation lasts four years and can be extended. But if the state doesn’t see progress, the zone may not be renewed.
If the enthusiasm expressed Thursday evening was any indication, the IPZ may be here to stay.
During remarks given by local government, business and education leaders, Vancouver City Councilor Jack Burkman said the list of the city’s partners is “just a start.” The IPZ is an opportunity to attract “new businesses and top-notch talent into our region,” he said, and to accelerate products created by entrepreneurs “into a global market.”
The zone also supports the goal of spurring more research and development, Burkman said, by deepening connections between college faculty and students and business enterprises.
As director of and associate professor in the digital technology and culture program at WSUV, Dene Grigar understands the need for collaboration and research and development.
She joined Burkman and others in making formal remarks during the event. Grigar said her students have gone on to work for many locally based high-tech businesses and for corporations outside the region. Her program places students in jobs at a rate of 90 percent, she said.
Grigar asked students who attended the event to raise their hands. She noted they’d brought their résumés with them on flash drives.
“I want you to look at their résumés,” she said to the crowd, “and hire more.”