Business, research and community leaders from the U.S. and Canada are gathering at the third annual Emerging Cascadia Innovation Corridor Conference to explore new strategies to continue to elevate the global economic position of the region.

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Two years ago, leaders in Washington state and British Columbia got together to talk about a big idea. Actually, a lot of big ideas.

At the 2016 Emerging Cascadia Innovation Corridor Conference, U.S. and Canadian business and government leaders discussed how collaborating across the U.S.-Canada border could enrich the whole region, by expanding trade, and forging collaboration in technology, research, transportation and education.

This week, the region’s top business, research and community leaders will gather at the third annual conference to discuss progress made by the Cascadia Innovation Corridor initiative and explore new strategies to continue to elevate the global economic position of the region. Many of the group’s initial dreams are getting off the ground. In some cases, literally: the new seaplane service from Kenmore Air and Harbour Air launched in April allows business and leisure travelers alike to get between downtown Seattle and downtown Vancouver in just an hour. And in September, a binational steering committee was officially formed, made up of some of the region’s top business, research and community leaders who will work together to increase collaboration and opportunity in the Cascadia region.

Bridging the transportation gap is one area where the initiative is focusing its attention, even beyond the seaplane service.

“Studies are underway on the ability to travel quickly within the corridor via high-speed rail, thanks to support from states of Washington and Oregon, the province of B.C., and Microsoft. This would be a transformative step forward — a game-changer that would truly connect our region and enable us to effectively compete on a global scale,” says Greg D’Avignon, president and CEO of the Business Council of British Columbia and co-chair of the steering committee.

Enhancing transportation throughout the region also supports one of the initiative’s other goals: making the region more livable. D’Avignon notes that transportation, housing and other community infrastructure can create a region that “acts as a magnet for the world’s top talent and capital resources.”

Christine Gregoire, CEO of Challenge Seattle, former governor of Washington, and also a co-chair of the steering committee, is putting her experience as a regional leader to work, too.

“We’ve already zeroed in on some of our region’s challenges: transportation, economic opportunity, education, health, climate change, housing,” she says. “We know what hasn’t worked in the past. We know what’s worked well in other parts of the world, and we’re prepared to craft our approach with those lessons in mind.”

Education is also a key focus area, and both Gregoire and D’Avignon say they’re already seeing results from greater cross-border collaboration. The Global Innovation Exchange (GIX) is a global partnership between the University of Washington and Tsinghua University, with foundational support from Microsoft, to develop leaders in innovation. Last year, the University of British Columbia joined GIX as one of eight academic partners, connecting students with cross-sector expertise, resources and networks.

More connections are being forged between the public universities on both sides of the border.

“Several partners have worked hard to launch multiple initiatives that cover a broad array of colleges, universities and polytechnics,” says D’Avignon. “Students at BCIT are benefitting from a first-of-its kind curriculum for Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality/Mixed Reality. Students at the University of British Columbia are collaborating with their counterparts on shared urban challenges – working directly with local governments on issues including traffic, regional equity and early child education.”

Thanks to these strong bonds, Canadian students have the opportunity to intern at Vancouver campuses of global companies, like Microsoft. “[These students are] working side by side with some of the world’s leaders in innovation, producing some really impressive work in visual data and analytics that will benefit the region and the world — not just in the short term, but for years to come,” says D’Avignon.

Gregoire says the collaboration between universities shows the major opportunities for growth in training the next generation of highly skilled workers in our region. But, she notes, her role doesn’t stop there. She wants to make sure the region continues to dream big.

One of the biggest dreams Gregoire sees coming to fruition out of the corridor? Major advances in the effort to cure cancer.

“As a recent chair of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center Board of Trustees, I’m thrilled to see the Hutch work with the B.C. Cancer Agency on a Digital Health Initiative to accelerate research and the pursuit of live-saving treatments,” Gregoire says. “We have a wealth of talent and knowledge throughout the Cascadia Innovation Corridor. By teaming up together, we can apply those resources and work on finding a cure for cancer. It’s not a question of if, but when.”

From revolutionizing our region’s transportation connections, making sure it remains an attractive place to live, expanding and diversifying the STEM pipeline here and identifying groundbreaking treatments for cancer, the newly formed steering committee has a lot on their plate, but they don’t see all these changes being easy, or even happening soon. And, they say, the payoff will benefit more than just our region.

“We have a vision for the Cascadia Innovation Corridor that stretches beyond the next few years,” says D’Avignon. “We’re building a sustainable innovation zone that equips the corridor for long-term economic opportunity that will also help create solutions for some of the world’s toughest challenges.”


The Cascadia Innovation Corridor Conference brings together business, academic, and government leaders from both sides of the border to explore new strategies for the region to come together, maximize our shared competitive advantages and elevate our global economic position.