31 Dec, 2009By: Governor Chris Gregoire
Washington - At the Forefront of Innovation
From Liberty Lake to Longview and all points in between, Washington state is rich with opportunity. With renowned global health, tech and aerospace industries, Washington attracts world-class talent to its universities and companies. The convergence of expertise, research and development, and infrastructure created by these industries keeps Washington state at the forefront of innovation.
To position Washington for continued success in the next decade of the 21st century, the state is looking at ways it can improve its connection with business, strengthen its reputation as a leader in clean energy, and build upon recent wins in bioscience. In short, Washington is serious about keeping a competitive edge. In 2009, the state began the process of reorganizing the Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development into the Department of Commerce under a mission that includes focusing on the state’s competitiveness.
Newly-formed Department of Commerce
In February 2009, Gov. Christine Gregoire appointed Rogers Weed, a former Microsoft executive, to the job of Commerce director. His first task was working with business and community leaders on how to make Washington an even more attractive, creative and fertile investment environment.
“Behind every great product is a product manager dedicated to driving its growth and championing its cause,” said Weed. “Washington, as a product, has this manager in the Department of Commerce.”
Commerce identified competitiveness, education and workforce training, infrastructure investment, and more efficient regulation as the four global priorities for the new agency. Weed also notes that the state’s existing competitive advantages such as high quality of life, proximity to Pacific Rim markets, diversity of industry sectors and skilled workforce are all factors that keep and attract good companies and strong workforce.
Many of these competitive advantages have come together to create a rich landscape for the growth of clean energy companies relocating, expanding and emerging across the state. Washington companies are finding cost-effective ways to harvest algae from the Puget Sound, harness the wind and sun of central and eastern Washington, and capture the power of the tides along the coast.
Energy and Infrastructure for the Future
Washington is taking great pride and garnering much attention for its innovation in clean energy. The state boasts nearly 50,000 green jobs, and during the 2008 election, President Barack Obama made a campaign stop at McKinstry, a Seattle-based company that designs, builds and operates buildings with a focus on energy efficiency.
Central Washington Regional Energy Consortium
Washington is pushing to establish the state as a center for clean technology innovation. In 2007, Gov. Gregoire and the Washington State Legislature created the Innovation Partnership Zone (IPZ) program to maximize the potential of research, help stimulate industry clusters and build regional economies. IPZs empower regions to form partnerships between research entities, private sector partners, and workforce training to collaborate and develop commercially viable technologies.
The state’s newest IPZ, announced in October, supports the development of clean energy industries in central Washington’s Kittitas County. The county is home to the 149-turbine Wild Horse Wind and Solar Facility, as well as the site of a proposed 900-acre solar installation. Collaboration between Puget Sound Energy, enXco Development Corporation, Kittitas County, the Economic Development Group of Kittitas County, and Central Washington University’s “Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technology Degree Program” will focus on research and commercialization of wind and solar energy technologies to drive economic development in the region.
“Collaborations through the IPZ in Kittitas County will help commercialize new technologies that are vital to economic development and boost Washington’s leadership toward a lower carbon economy,” said Weed. “Every sector of the economy will have an opportunity to benefit from the transition to a clean energy economy – from forest products and automotive to law firms, architects and agriculture.”
Clean energy technology expands beyond the borders of the IPZ. In Richland, Washington, GCL Solar announced plans to open a research and development center, citing the technical expertise available in the area. Along with the growth of wind and solar power, Areva, a producer of fuel for nuclear power plants, recently announced that they are consolidating their U.S. fuel fabrications operations in Richland starting in spring of 2010.
Strategies for growth in the clean energy industry are being created by a public-private partnership called the Clean Energy Leadership Council. The council is working to increase investment and align energy policies and technologies to ensure that Washington companies continue to lead the way in clean energy technology.
Washington is home to a substantial life sciences cluster. The Washington Biotechnology & Biomedical Association (WBBA), global philanthropic organizations such as PATH and the Gates Foundation, and skilled engineering and tech industries are pushing the growth of bioscience in Washington. The city of Bothell has been the site of recent biosciences relocations in the past year owing to its high concentration of experienced, educated workers and the presence of established global companies such as Phillips Healthcare.
Albany Molecular Research Institute and AVI BioPharma
In September, after working with the Washington State Department of Commerce and the Economic Development Council of Snohomish County, Albany Molecular Research Institute (AMRI) opened its Bothell Research Center focused on early phases of drug discovery. The Bothell Technology Corridor IPZ is a hub of medical device manufacturers, ultrasound technology companies and research organizations. The addition of AMRI, which has acquired one of the world’s largest collections of isolated microorganisms and plant samples, will contribute to ongoing research and collaboration in Bothell and across the state.
The Bothell biotech cluster was also strengthened by the relocation of AVI BioPharma headquarters to the city in July. AVI BioPharma cited access to experienced executives, scientists and opportunities for regional collaboration as the reason for the move.
The Next Decade of Success
The industries and talent that created Washington’s vibrant, diverse economy have come together over the past decade to form a perfect storm of talent, research and development, global connections and uniquely northwest ingenuity. The melding of these factors is driving breakthroughs in new industries.
Aerospace companies are using the principles of aerodynamics to perfect wind turbines, software companies are producing the code that will make an energy efficient smart grid possible, and research to solve problems in the developing world are creating methods of cheap drug delivery to be used in this country. The state of Washington embodies the multidisciplinary approach needed to drive the economy in the years to come.