Techlandia Issue 3 - 2019/2020 - Page 30

"That has matured in a way that's still very surprising for all of us, which is as the high-tech industry changed across the world, we've shifted toward software and IoT (internet of things). Our software community has been able to adapt fairly quick."

RealWear is an example of the internet of things – commercial and industrial applications for the internet's underlying technology – marking a new wave of tech innovation throughout the metro area.

Another example is the rapidly growing Home Depot QuoteCenter. Formerly QuoteCenter, a Vancouver company developing software to track roof truss manufacturing and sales, Home Depot bought the startup in 2013.

Since then it has grown to become Home Depot's company-wide software provider, tracking large product orders for contractors. The company recently built a new headquarters in Vancouver and ramped up hiring to about 200 employees, said Mike Lee, manager for corporate technology and talent acquisition at the Home Depot QuoteCenter.

New hires have come from across North America, including Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, the Midwest, the Carolinas and both coasts of Canada, a testament to the region's ability to attract talented tech workers.

"A lot of people want to be in the Pacific Northwest because it's an attractive place, and we've been the beneficiary of a lot of people looking in this area," Lee said. "And frankly, with the increase in real estate costs in Portland and the dwindling supply of available real estate in Portland, that's naturally pushed people to this side of the river."

Yet the economic development officials charged with recruiting businesses to the region aren't sitting back and letting market conditions dictate Vancouver's growth.

Organizations including the Columbia River Economic Development Council and WSU Vancouver have played active roles in bringing companies like RealWear to Vancouver.

CREDC has helped businesses secure financial incentives and connected them with the region's pipeline of talent in higher education institutions, through collaboration with partners like the Southwest Washington STEM Network, Workforce Southwest Washington and the High Tech Council.

"In many cases", said Jennifer Baker, CREDC's president, "business executives themselves have joined local boards and taken a stake in the region's growth."

"The buy-in from senior-level executives in investing in opportunities for young people that will help grow industry is really powerful," Baker said. "We have a tremendously strong business-to-business and local executive network. The sense of community, and the way that companies support each other here and support each other's growth, I think is very unique."

That's the collaborative spirit Lowery felt when he decided to invest in the artillery barracks at Fort Vancouver. The Washington governor's office provided RealWear with a $200,000 grant to help cover some relocation and infrastructure costs when they set up shop in 2017. And since then, Lowery has joined the CREDC Board of Directors, gotten involved with the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce, Clark College and other institutions.

I've been met with this very 'welcome home' sort of feeling in Vancouver, and for that matter the greater Portland metro area. After I committed and made the choice, the community really said, 'Now you're one of our own.

- Andy Lowery, CEO of RealWear

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