While there has always been a business connection between Seattle and Vancouver, the drive on I-5 or flight out of Sea-Tac can be less than appealing.
Seattle and its neighbor to the North, Vancouver, draw many comparisons: both are beautiful coastal cities known for their outdoorsy, laid-back vibes — but a new seaplane service connecting the cities daily has businesses in both cities thinking about other similarities, too.
“Both cities are about innovation and startups and moving fast,” says Heather Redman, board chair of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and co-founder of Flying Fish Partners. “We have so many similarities, in terms of our young, highly educated, highly entrepreneurial residents and we both just have a tremendous amount of energy and creativity.”
While there has always been a business connection between Seattle and Vancouver, the drive on I-5 across the border or a flight out of SeaTac into Vancouver International Airport can be less than appealing for actual in-person business that needs to be done quickly and conveniently.
“The movement of people, ideas and capital between Seattle and Vancouver happens every day,” says Greg D’Avignon, president and CEO of the Business Council of British Columbia. A new daily seaplane service between Lake Union and Vancouver’s Coal Harbour operated by Kenmore Air and Canada’s Harbour Air can iron out some of the potential travel hazards, D’Avignon says. “The service will be a more efficient means of linking our economies.”
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The seaplane service is expected to be a convenient way for business travelers to commute between the Cascadia Innovation Corridor tech centers, with companies like Microsoft already expressing support for the service. “This connection gives project teams within companies like Microsoft, Boeing and others who work in Vancouver the ability to contribute to projects in Seattle and vice versa,” says D’Avignon.
The concept of the Cascadia Innovation Corridor began in 2016 at a conference in Vancouver, B.C. when business, academic and government leaders from both sides of the border assembled to explore new ways the region could better collaborate and enhance cross-border connectivity. This initial meeting spurred the vision for the direct seaplane service.
Microsoft has seen the business opportunities in this potential seaplane connection for a long time. “We at Microsoft have been supporters, advocates, and maybe even agitators for this route for years. Not only is this a flight that’s time has come, maybe even it’s overdue,” Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president said at the launch event for the service on April 25.
Smith thinks that the seaplane service may even spur more opportunities for direct connections between the two cities. “This is a big milestone in and of itself, a step that can inspire us to take more steps forward along what is clearly a continuing journey…when we think about the opportunities for high speed rail, when we think about the connections that are growing between people and seeing our businesses collaborate in new ways.”
The seaplane connection can also help create business connections for brand-new companies, says Redman, an investor in many early-stage technology companies. As a venture capitalist, she sees the appeal of the more direct service to Vancouver to facilitate more meetings between startup companies and potential investors. “We need to be able to move quickly in order to invest in the best companies across the region and help those companies succeed,” she says. “This will help investors and help companies because if we can’t get to them, we can’t make an investment decision — to really understand the people who are running the company you need to be face to face.”
Bringing people quickly and efficiently to meetings, potential investors and even a different customer base are clearly appealing to startups and tech companies in Seattle and Vancouver. D’Avignon says he sees professionals in other fields using the service as well, researchers for instance. “You have Fred Hutch in Seattle doing groundbreaking cutting-edge research around cancer and then here in Vancouver we have strengths in the genomics world — that ability to move researchers, clinicians, data and even tissue back and forth more readily has the potential to show we’re more than the sum of our parts in some of this work that can truly make a difference in the life of everyone on the planet,” says D’Avignon.
This type of knowledge exchange between the two cities can greatly help startups as well, says Redman. “In our network, there are a ton of people who are experts in various things and have an interest in helping the next generation of companies succeed. For a young company in Vancouver, for instance, it would be invaluable to have an expert from here hop on a plane and go to Canada for a couple-hour meeting. That meeting could be worth a year of development time for that young company,” she says. “When you’re asking for someone’s expertise, being able to offer that quick turnaround trip to make it as easy and pleasant as possible, makes those kinds of meetings across the border a lot more likely.”
Overall, the economies of both cities will be strengthened by adding this new connection, says D’Avignon. “Vancouver has a global reputation for having international talent that comes here to live and work, while Seattle has an international reputation for being this large, innovative center in cloud computing — when we combine these strengths, we complement each other’s assets and can advance our economies and the companies of tomorrow.”
Accessing the talent in Vancouver is a major appeal of the service for Redman. “I invest mostly in Artificial Intelligence companies, and we love looking for talent in Vancouver,” she says. “Mixing that access to talent with the access to ideas will create not just more opportunities for both regions, but incredible new business ideas and ventures we haven’t even thought of yet.”
For now, Redman’s only hesitation about the new service is that it might underestimate the need for this kind of direct connection. “I think it will really end up being like when they opened up the light rail to the University of Washington and everyone was astonished at how many people were using it,” she says. “This is so needed — they may need to get a bigger plane.”