IPZ helping to grow tech scene in downtown Vancouver

State designation successfully bringing same-thinking businesses to the heart of the city

Matt Cole

Since being awarded the Innovation Partnership Zone (IPZ) designation 18 months ago, Vancouver is successfully drawing more technology companies to the targeted downtown core.

The city of Vancouver is focusing on marketing and branding downtown with the help of a management team which includes the Columbia River Economic Development Council (CREDC), Clark College and Washington State University Vancouver (WSUV).

“IPZ companies are very competitive and [they] need to be able to attract knowledge-based employees and those folks are looking for urban amenities,” said Sandra Towne, planning manager for the city of Vancouver and IPZ administrator. “We want to educate and train the next generation of tech pioneers and keep them in Clark County.”

The Washington State Department of Commerce developed the IPZ and has since designated 18 zones –from technology to agriculture to wine and tourism – based largely on an area’s ability to capitalize on an existing asset within their community. In the fall of 2013 the Vancouver-Camas zone was dubbed ‘applied digital technology accelerator’ due to established tech companies located downtown and along the 192nd Avenue corridor.

IPZ-2Companies like web-based design firm, Gravitate, and high-tech applications maker, Woobox, have teamed up as partners with the city. Incorporating feedback from the approximately 30 tech companies in operation at the time, a needs analysis was conducted that identified key important factors for technology-driven entrepreneurs and, based on the findings, energy is being directed to encourage and grow those areas of commerce.

For example, these startup companies appreciate opportunities for informal networking with other tech firms, walkable communities and proximity to transit or the ability to safely bike to work with an emphasis on a vibrant downtown core further defined by food trucks, coffee shops, restaurants and breweries.

Not surprisingly, the most important element for business owners is access to affordable office space, which Vancouver is excelling at by helping property owners repurpose buildings that carry iconic names such as Koplan’s, Sparks and Luepke.

Digital marketing company, Ambient, set up shop in 1,500 square feet of the historic Elks Building with six full-time employees and three part-time contractors. Matt Cole, partner and creative director of Ambient, described their space as “an old building shared by several businesses” with “a lot of personality.”

As for their location in the IPZ, Cole said “Downtown is reemerging as a vibrant center of the city with breweries, food carts, parks and all kinds of culture that make being down here exciting and help us to feel like we’re a part of a community and not just another anonymous business.”

Cole encourages more of what he calls ‘creative agencies’ in the IPZ citing a cluster of same-thinking businesses as good for the overall culture of downtown to fuel “other businesses like coffee shops, brew pubs or boutique stores.”

Executive director of Vancouver’s Downtown Association, Lee Rafferty, said “I think a lot of people aren’t even aware these businesses are here because they come in quietly, not with a lot of fanfare. It’s not like (a big corporation) that takes out full-page ads and announces they’re here. It’s almost stealth, it’s so strategic, and they like being in a place where their souls get fed. They’re exciting people to work with because they’re usually thinking four to five steps ahead of everyone else.”

For more information about the IPZ, go to www.ipzgetin.com or contact Sandra Towne at Sandra.towne@cityofvancouver.us.