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Feb. 28, 2021

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Making tech connections at Vancouver’s first Digital Technology Expo

The event draws from a budding community

By , Columbian Business Editor
2 Photos
Chandra Chase, programs and communications director at the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce, took a lead role in developing the upcoming Digital Technology Expo, which will be held Thursday at the Hilton Vancouver Washington.
Chandra Chase, programs and communications director at the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce, took a lead role in developing the upcoming Digital Technology Expo, which will be held Thursday at the Hilton Vancouver Washington. (Photos by Natalie Behring/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Just when we learn some new technology in today’s workplace, something newer and supposedly better comes along to replace it. Then we have to learn again.

Or we don’t learn and get further behind competitors and the up-and-comers in our professional fields. It’s not much of an option.

Helping businesses and their employees fire up their digital technology skills is the challenge that Chandra Chase, the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce’s programs and communications director, and a large contingent of local technology professionals hope to address at Vancouver’s first Digital Technology Expo on Thursday. It’s a mostly free event that showcases local resources as well as companies that are building the foundation for a growing digital technology job sector.

The daylong expo is one of those Clark County collaborative efforts that combines the resources of government, educational institutions, business, and business support groups. Comcast is the lead sponsor. Other sponsors and/or participants include the Vancouver, Camas, and Evergreen school districts and the county’s two colleges, Washington State University Vancouver and Clark College; the Southwest Washington STEM Network and the Technology Association of Oregon; the city of Vancouver and the Vancouver-Camas Innovation Partnership Zone, among others.

A likely highlight will be the “Edge out the Competition Luncheon” featuring a panel with experts in digital marketing for the Portland Trail Blazers, Portland Timbers, and the Hillsboro Hops baseball team. The expo will also feature some 50 vendors offering information about their products and services. In a contemporary twist, Uptown Village marijuana retailer High End Market Place will showcase its use of technology “to positively influence an emerging industry that has true economical force.”

If You Go

• What: Digital Technology Expo.

• When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday.

• Where: Hilton Vancouver Washington, 301 W. 6th St.

• Cost: Free; fee for luncheon.

 Details: Company exhibits, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Education preview, 9 to 11 a.m.; Demonstration stage, 9:30 to 11 a.m. and 1:30 to 3 p.m.; Digital Technology luncheon, noon to 1:30 p.m.; no-host Digital Tech Happy Hour, 3 to 4 p.m.

• Other: RSVP recommended for luncheon at

• Information:

The expo’s vision is broader than an information-sharing extravaganza. Sponsors are looking to a longer horizon than just teaching people in business the difference between Facebook and Snapchat. They’ve invited some 500 high school students to attend a morning session on digital technology in education and job training. Students and others can observe and participate in demonstrations on virtual mapping and 3-D graphics, among other activities.

If it all seems like an expansive package, that’s because digital technology now permeates virtually every aspect of our personal and professional lives. Chase says that one of the motivators for launching the Digital Technology Expo was her own informal survey of chamber members about what kind of training they could use to help them compete. Time and again chamber members told her that they needed help in understanding how to use the vast tools of digital and mobile technology to help manage and build their businesses.

In her view, that need will only get greater as the pace of change quickens. Last year was the first in which Americans used smartphone and tablet apps more than PCs for Internet access, Chase noted. The implications for marketing and selling goods and services is profound.

“Everything has become this ‘mobile first’ technology,” she said. “This is like when the VHS gave way to the DVD.”

Emerging companies

Sandra Towne, Vancouver’s planning manager, is the point person for Clark County’s Innovation Partnership Zone, a mouthful of a name for what is primarily a coordination hub for all things digital in Vancouver and Camas. The state Legislature designated the zone, which encompasses central Vancouver and stretches east to include the Columbia Tech Center and portions of Camas, after years of lobbying efforts by Clark County technology, education, and political leaders.

The designation potentially opens the door for government financial incentives; in reality it has not attracted any state funding. It has, however, brought together what had been disconnected elements of the county’s digital economy to create a more unified whole that could put together something like the Digital Technology Expo.

Towne noted that the technology sector is becoming a significant presence in downtown Vancouver’s economy, even if it’s little noticed by outsiders.

“The difference between where we were two years ago and where we are today is pretty remarkable,” she said. “We know of only 12 to 14 (technology) companies then, and in downtown today there are over 45.”

Most are small companies, and Towne certainly doesn’t claim that Innovation Partnership Zone activities were key to attracting many of those technology newcomers. But she says the IPZ, as it’s called, supports those companies by bringing together education and business resources to assist those businesses with workshops, mentors, contracting assistance, and training programs.

“We can help with the amenities the creative folks need,” she said. “As a city, that’s something we can do.”

One thing those companies need, of course, are skilled employees. Dene Grigar, director of Washington State University Vancouver’s Creative Media & Digital Culture Program, said her program can’t produce enough graduates to meet local businesses’ demand for workers trained in the latest digital technology.

“We have jobs just coming out of the kazoo,” she said. “We are placing students before they graduate.”

The program now has 250 students, up from 44 a decade ago, she said. They find jobs not only in technology-focused companies but also in long-established firms that are hiring people who can help them tap into the digital communication and marketing worlds. Vancouver-based Dick Hannah Dealerships, for example, has hired five program graduates, she said.

Because WSUV is largely a commuter college, those students who’ve chosen to stay or move to Vancouver are likely to remain in the local workforce for their full careers, Grigar said.

“We’re mindfully building a community of high-tech, digitally creative people,” she said.

Clark County’s technology industry is well-entrenched on Vancouver’s east side and in Camas, where companies like Hewlett-Packard, SEH America, Linear Technology, Integra, and Kyocera are among east county’s manufacturers and software developers.

The creative digital technology scene in downtown Vancouver — of firms working on educational software, games, data collection and other innovations — is more embryonic. Grigar credits the work of the Innovation Partnership Zone, of which WSUV is a part, with bringing them together.

“Five years ago we had all these companies in downtown but they didn’t know each other,” she said.

Kevin Getch launched his Vancouver social media company, called Webfor, in 2009. The company, now with 13 employees, assists businesses with search engine optimization — getting their messages to a top position in Web searches. He’ll be one of about 50 showcase companies at the Digital Tech Expo.

The expo, he said, is coming at an opportune time in Clark County’s economic recovery and growth.

“It feels to me like we’re hitting this critical momentum,” he said.