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The Washington State Department of Commerce is partnering with two Okanogan County agencies to create so called “innovation clusters” that its hoped will drive economic growth and jobs for the future.

Innovation clusters are formalized, industry-led organizations working together to drive innovation, overcome industry-wide barriers, access new market opportunities and attract talent and capital.

In addition to $50,000 capacity-building grants awarded through a competitive process, each organization will participate in a year-long strategic guidance and technical assistance program to develop an early stage innovation cluster strategy for their targeted industries.

One of the organizations is Room One, working in partnership with Blue Sky Minds. This consortium seeks to support the growth of an equitable, sustainable and economically thriving food ecosystem for the Okanogan region. They will bring together farmers, ranchers, food producers, restaurants, food sellers, and the nonprofit community to develop a stronger localized food economy that will create jobs, increase wages and boost the demand for the local and regional foods. Additionally, increased food production will improve access to healthier, diverse, and culturally appropriate foods, through the food system, including schools and local food banks.

The other organization is TwispWorks. This consortium is focused on opportunities in the circular economy in the Methow Valley to support innovative businesses and new industries to help the area address the effects and causes of climate change on a local scale. The core team is comprised of local industry and nonprofit leaders, as well as higher education, local businesses, and thought leaders in the region. They envision an economy rooted in livability. The combination of cluster development and the historic 6.4-acre former USDA Forest Service campus will help the community start, build, and grow businesses and cultural programs to reach that vision.

These organizations will lead local industry ecosystem partners in learning and implementing strategies and techniques to drive collaborative action, begin building an innovation cluster strategy, and position their networks to pursue private and public investment.

These programs are patterned after successful innovation cluster programs around the world, including those in Canada and Norway.

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