An idea whose time has come: A new Cascadia Innovation Corridor connecting Vancouver and Seattle

Leaders from across British Columbia and Washington state have come together in Vancouver today to talk about an important opportunity. The Emerging Cascadia Innovation Corridor Conference focuses on laying the groundwork for an innovation corridor linking Seattle and Vancouver.

Vancouver and Seattle have many things in common and many complementary strengths. We also have an opportunity to contribute to a region that is stronger than its individual parts. Working together, we can build a globally competitive 21st century innovation corridor that connects and enhances both regions. This in fact is a unique opportunity to create social and economic opportunity for the nearly 12 million people who live in Washington state and British Columbia today.

Today’s conference was organized by the Business Council of British Columbia, the Washington Roundtable and Microsoft, and laid a foundation for future collaboration. Beyond the rich discussion, there were specific commitments from leaders on both sides of the border to take concrete steps. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and British Columbia Premier Christy Clark signed a formal agreement that their governments would deepen their collaboration in key areas like trade, research, transportation and education.

In addition, the leaders of B.C. Cancer Agency, the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center agreed to work together on detailed plans to expand patient access to care and clinical trials, advance immunotherapy, enable research collaboration, and provide better training opportunities for young scientists and researchers.

Emerging Cascadia Innovation Corridor Conference
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and British Columbia Premier Christy Clark sign a Memorandum of Understanding at the Emerging Cascadia Innovation Corridor Conference in Vancouver, B.C. on Sept. 20, 2016.

To better understand the current situation and to identify areas of opportunity, the Boston Consulting Group presented a new white paper. It shows that, while Vancouver and Seattle are only 120 miles (or 193 kilometers) apart, the current connections between the two cities are relatively weak. People in each city sometimes interact more with individuals in cities thousands of miles away than they do with each other. Relatively few companies or public-sector organizations in the two cities regularly collaborate today. Yet, as the white paper highlights, metropolitan city regions are fast becoming the centers of global competition. Worldwide, 300 metro areas, representing 10 percent of the global population, produce about 50 percent of the world’s GDP. That’s one reason creating a larger, interconnected region offers huge benefits.

To address these challenges, the Boston Consulting Group suggests several steps that the Vancouver and Seattle regions can take to work more cohesively as a larger Cascadia Innovation Corridor. It suggests reducing obstacles to the access of talent in neighboring markets, and better collaboration between universities and research institutions. It recommends sharing best practices toward creating a more business-friendly environment. It proposes joint efforts to bring local wealth off the sidelines, and redirecting some foreign wealth today invested in real estate, toward the innovation sector. And it suggests strengthening connections and reducing travel times through investments in transportation – potentially including high-speed rail. This could shrink the journey time to under an hour.

The report also shows that there is an opportunity to improve Vancouver’s innovation ecosystem through a deeper relationship with Seattle’s innovation sector companies and nonprofits. This is a subject particularly relevant to Microsoft, as we’ve been engaged for several years in helping grow the Vancouver technology ecosystem.  In June of this year, we opened a major development center in British Columbia. Microsoft Vancouver, ultimately housing 750 employees, will inject $90 million in direct investment in the city annually. And it will have an estimated economic impact of $180 million each year across the province.

Those who visit Microsoft Vancouver will immediately recognize the talent of British Columbia’s workforce. Among many other things, Microsoft Vancouver hosts 50 students from Canadian universities each year, who get to select interesting and challenging projects to work on, and develop critical skills in the process.

Of course, since 1986 we’ve called the Seattle area home, and we now have nearly 45,000 employees in the Puget Sound. We’ve played our part in helping to create – and in turn we have benefited significantly from – Seattle’s vibrant tech and innovation scene. We’ve seen first-hand Seattle’s growth and the success of the many new companies born in Seattle. We’ve also built strong partnerships across the community, including with the University of Washington, which is such a vital asset to the whole region.

By many measures both Seattle and Vancouver – and the communities around these cities – are thriving. But as we look to the future we can do more together and to create social and economic opportunities for generations to come. We have the opportunity to contribute to a Cascadia Innovation Corridor that builds on the strengths and shared values of these two great cities and that creates a brighter future for everyone, on both sides of the border.

It’s a big idea. It will take hard work, creative thinking and strong partnerships. But judging by the commitment from leaders from across government, business, academia and the community who came together in Vancouver today, it just might be an idea whose time has come.

Brad Smih, Emerging Cascadia Innovation Corridor Conference
Microsoft President Brad Smith, center, Telus Chief Corporate Officer and Executive Vice President Josh Blair and Business Council of British Columbia President and Chief Executive Officer Greg D’Avignon speaking at the Emerging Cascadia Innovation Corridor Conference in Vancouver, B.C, on Sept. 20, 2016.

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