It was a long and arduous legislative session in Washington state (167 days) but finally House and Senate legislators and the Governor came to an agreement on the operating budget for the next 2013-15 biennium. It is with great regret that funding for the Washington Economic Development Commission (WEDC) is eliminated. Furthermore, the STARS and Entrepreneur-in- Residence program which the commission shepherded with outstanding results is also eliminated. The WEDC will no longer have an independent full time staff. The strategy, oversight and performance evaluation functions of the WEDC will be absorbed by the Department of Commerce. Modest transition funding of $75K is provided for convening a working group of former commissioners and Associate Development Organizations (ADOs) to address specified tasks.
The WEDC leadership worked hard at making the case that a non-partisan, public-private forum with an impartial view was worthy of continued state support. We emphasized the value of the private sector working jointly with the state's leading policymakers in shaping a long-term and cohesive economic growth strategy, establishing benchmarks for performance accountability and ensuring rigorous data standards for evaluating economic development programs, taxes and regulations. Many legislators appreciated the merits of an independent entity championing these values and goals—but in the end other priorities prevailed in budget deliberations.
It has been an honor to work with a fantastic group of commissioners in building a forward-looking strategy, organizing numerous innovation conferences and events, preparing research reports, managing policy development and engaging hundreds of business, education, and civic leaders in our priority-setting process. We covered every latitude and longitude of this wonderful state. Collectively we designed a potent policy framework for talent development, innovation and entrepreneurship, infrastructure, regulatory efficiency and international business. I am confident many elements of this policy framework will endure and help guide policymakers in the future.
We played a central role in designating 15 Innovation Partnership Zones (IPZ) across Washington State. The IPZ program garnered recognition as a best practice by the National Governors Association and in a national competition won a first place Innovation Award from the Council of State Governments. This bottom-up and essentially no-cost initiative has leveraged millions of federal, state and private sector resources for their unique innovation focused strategies.
Through our Entrepreneurs-in-Residence program dozens of new start-up companies were launched commercializing the intellectual capital of the University of Washington and Washington State University. The Strategically Targeted Academic Researchers (STARS) program guided by the Innovation Advisory Committee provided the critical seed funding for recruiting world class entrepreneurial researchers and enabled the establishment of two outstanding research commercialization centers: Bio- products, Sciences and Engineering Laboratory and the Energy Systems Innovation Center.
It was an impressive team effort facilitated greatly by the stewardship of Roger Woodworth (chair), Bruce Kendall (former chair) and Steve VanAusdle (vice-chair). I also salute my superb and productive staff—especially the amazing operational skills of Noreen Hoban who has been with me since the beginning and Spencer Cohen who set the bar for high quality analysis and rigorous standards for evaluation.
As the next steps are undertaken for the state's economic development, we should refresh our pledge to make Washington the leading birthplace of innovation and world changing ideas, business models, products and services. An enduring public-private commitment to action will be essential for this vision to be realized.
It has been a great honor and privilege to be of service to Washington State.
Washington Economic Development Commission