By Carlo Dade and Matt Morrison
Published in the Seattle Times
January 2, 2020
Competing for investment on the global stage, and especially around the Pacific Rim, is hard. Which is why the Cascadia Innovation Corridor (CIC) — the idea of uniting the talents and complementary resources of neighboring jurisdictions — makes so much sense. Where one jurisdiction can shine, two or more jurisdictions united shine brighter.
This argument makes sense not only for Seattle, Vancouver, B.C., and Portland to join forces. It makes even more sense if Calgary and its unique complementary advantages is added to the mix to strengthen the global value proposition of the initiative.
None of these cities ranks in the Top 25 in indexes — like the highly competitive AT Kearney Global Cities index. Those are dominated by larger urban centers that happen to be mega-regions of complementary jurisdictions. Think Seoul-Inchon-Songdo or Hong Kong-Shenzhen-Guangzhou-Zhuhai and Macau.
This is the playing field to attract investment and talent around the Pacific Rim. No one city can go it alone, and even two cities combining resources is not enough. Success means at the very least matching what competitors offer — bringing the unique assets of several varied but complementary jurisdictions together. In a world of mega-regions, it is literally a game of go big or go home.
Each of these cities — Seattle, Vancouver, Portland and Calgary — face similar challenges and have greater strategic opportunities together. Each is on a similar path of economic diversification and transformation. All were, in the not-too-distant, pre-internet past, economic and trade centers dominated by the financing, management, science, and movement of natural resources and the human capital that is critical to competitiveness.
All four cities are undergoing transformations to become centers for global technology-based business. Though Seattle with Microsoft and Amazon and Vancouver with the overflow of these and related industries from Seattle, and Portland with Nike and its health science cluster are further along in the transformation, Calgary is on the same path, gaining speed.
All four cities have also set a goal to become a global center for technology-based business. Of the CIC’s seven priority areas of focus, four — Transformative Technologies, Sustainable Agriculture, Transportation, Housing and Connectivity and Talent — are mirrored in Calgary’s Economic Development priorities. Calgary has already become a hub for agricultural-processing technology firms, attracting some of the world’s largest players like Corteva Agriscience and others like BASF Agricultural Solutions which recently relocated to Calgary.
Calgary, located practically next door to Banff and four national parks, also has a quality of life that fits with the active outdoors Cascadia brand and attracts the type of workers who want to play where they live and work.
Where these cities differ most notably is the office space availability and price, affordability and housing availability. The differences — lower costs and more abundant supply in Calgary — are complementary instead of conflicts, given that Vancouver and Seattle have some of the most rapidly rising office-occupancy costs and congestion in North America.
Calgary’s other attributes include the Vancouver advantage of Canada’s immigration system and ease of entry for foreign tech workers. Calgary is already a longstanding member of the cross-border regional governance architecture, the Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PPNWER) and the U.S. Council of State Governments West that surrounds and enables the Cascadia Innovation Corridor.
Calgary and Seattle already have a respectable five daily flights, and Vancouver-Calgary has 26. Even though Calgary is 25 minutes by air farther from Seattle than Vancouver, lack of congestion to, from and in the airport makes it convenient for business travel.
But the bottom line is that these cities are stronger if they work together. In the competition around the Pacific Rim to grow and succeed, our competitive advantage is to combine our strengths and market the tremendous opportunities we have in a Pacific Northwest Mega Region.