Using technology to further economic development in Clark County

Grigar Pyszka

The State of Washington Department of Commerce sponsors the Innovation Partnership Zone (IPZ), a unique economic development effort that partners research, workforce training and private sector participation in close geographic proximity to promote collaboration in a research-based effort that will lead to new technologies, marketable products, company formation and job creation. Various IPZs have been designated across the state already.

The city of Vancouver is working with several partners to prepare for a formal IPZ designation application this summer. The proposed IPZ will reinforce current organization relationships (WSUV, city, CREDC, Clark College, K-12) and clearly articulate the emerging technology innovation in Vancouver and the Portland-Vancouver region. It will enhance what is already taking place in the business community and provide a clear message to digital and creative businesses that they are recognized and supported in the community. 

The IPZ program does not award grant dollars. However, the formal recognition well positions stakeholders to obtain various federal and state grants, and brand the region as a place to grow a digital technology company. Already we are seeing results of this deliberate focus on the digital technology realm and strengthening relationships through the development of the #nextchapter initiative.  

#nextchapter is an annual community-wide reading and conversation program designed to stimulate innovation and opportunities through deeper understanding of the most compelling cultural trends of the emerging digital economy. The program is led by co-chairs Dr. Dene Grigar, director of the Creative Media & Digital Culture (CMDC) program at Washington State University Vancouver and Vancouver City Councilmember Jack Burkman. With support from the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District, CREDC, Vancouver and Evergreen School Districts and Clark College, the program creates a community conversation among thinkers and doers in order to create the future we want. At its core, #nextchapter intends both to prepare and invigorate the city. #nextchapter is aimed as a three-year pilot program, with a theme of media ethics set for this year, digital diversity in 2014 and digital democracy in 2015.

By “prepare and invigorate” we mean promoting digital media literacy. Job development notwithstanding, an educated population that recognizes the fundamentals of the Web, the power of social media, the ethics needed to underpin polite online discourse and the personal responsibilities inherent in living in a networked society, is a population that is ready for its “next chapter.” Economic growth focusing on digital technology will see better success if the city’s population is ready for and unafraid of it.

As a program, #nextchapter includes an annual city-wide reading and discussion of a book, workshops relating to digital technology skills and public lectures. The first book chosen for the program is Douglas Rushkoff’s Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age. Rushkoff, a pioneer in the area of new media and popular culture, coined such common phrases as “viral media” and “digital native.” His book argues that we must learn the digital technologies so ubiquitous around us in order not to be controlled by them. The book is a thoughtful approach to technology, one that everyone can enjoy and find useful in their lives.

The workshops, called “Tech 101,” build on the “commands” Rushkoff lays out in his book and offer 10 free, hands-on workshops that help participants learn how to manage and control common apps and tools of the digital medium, from Facebook to Freeware, and PhotoShop to WordPress, so that participants can better understand the online environment. All workshops are taught by faculty of The Creative Media & Digital Culture Program at WSUV and are held at the Vancouver Community Library on Saturdays, from noon-1 p.m.

Finally, two public lectures by Douglas Rushkoff are scheduled on April 18. The first, entitled “Program or be Programmed: Play, Participation, and Power in the Digital Age,” takes place at 1:00 p.m. at Washington State University Vancouver. The second, entitled “Program or be Programmed: Thriving in the Digital Landscape,” takes place at 7:00 p.m. at the Vancouver Community Library. Both are free and open to the public.

It is said that “the city that opens the same book closes it in greater harmony” (Mary McGrory, The Washington Post, March 17, 2002). The harmony we are seeking to create in Vancouver with the Economic Development Plan and, by extension, #nextchapter, represents more than economic wealth. Rather, it represents stability and hope for a brighter future for all of Vancouver’s citizens.

Alisa Pyszka is the economic development division manager for the city of Vancouver.

Dene Grigar is the director of the Creative Media & Digital Culture (CMDC) program at Washington State University Vancouver. 

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