EDC eyes new direction

ula farming remains viable amid a decline in overall presence, the Clallam Economic Development Council is looking to sow and reap innovation.

An innovation can be an idea, invention, a scientific breakthrough, a start-up business or simply a process, such as how to farm an economy.

In the 1980s the EDC’s strategic plan, board and bylaws were set up to make the agency a conduit for state and federal funds to local ventures in the natural resource economy.

But things change.

Clallam County is still an active farming community and timber still makes its way east on logging trucks but not like it did 20 years ago so EDC director Linda Rotmark has been asking herself the same question since she came here three years ago: What’s next?

“When the governor awarded Battelle and the college the Innovative Partnership Zone, that was the catalyst that turned on the light bulb for me,” Rotmark said. “If the state recognizes this area as a place for innovation and partnerships, so should we.”

The EDC will continue doing exactly what it already does, actively recruiting businesses from afar and building the local economy. However, now it will begin investing in tools to farm local innovation and ideas.

“Clallam County is considered unusual for the number of patents awarded per capita, we have some of the greatest minds in the nation and a great deal of potential,” Rotmark said, indicating a shift from outside recruitment intensive planning to internal investments. “So instead of chasing smokestacks, we can invest in ourselves and create a new, local economy to supplement the area’s historical economy.”

The Washington Manufacturing Service, a statewide business incubator, caught wind of Rotmark’s shift in gears and unloaded some tools to assist in the change.

“The ‘grow your own business or idea’ direction needed more tools,” Rotmark said.

“We are now the beta test, so to speak, for new tools based on decades of research in economic development.”

The EDC and the manufacturing service held a workshop with a diverse team of local entrepreneurs, government officials, economic players, real estate agents and inventors to test the effectiveness of the new model.

Previously, the EDC had the tools to help a business idea or invention in its early stages, such as business model advisors or patent lawyers, as well as tools to help in the finishing stages, such as funding mechanisms and public to private partnerships. But it was missing something in the middle, Rotmark said.

“In order to help innovations grow into something the owner can commercialize, there needs to be a set of diagnostics between development and funding, which is something the Washington Manufacturing Service is testing with us right now,” Rotmark said.

Brad Griffith, local contractor and part-time inventor, sat in on the innovation workshop.

“I was invited to represent local inventors,” said Griffith, who is a member of a local inventors’ club. “The process was interesting in how it qualified and quantified an idea’s success and provided ways for it to grow more effectively.”

Griffith said he may have an invention, he may have already done patent research, but was missing certain connecting pieces, like where to find an injection molding company or a way to commercialize the finished product.

“What they talked about in the workshop is what we try to do in our club meetings,” he said. “We try to connect different ideas with different people to help that idea become a reality.”

The EDC’s new “innovation farming” model can be used for business ideas or any type of innovation.

“America has gone through the agricultural age, the industrial age, the investment age and the technology age,” Griffith said. “What’s next, as I’ve seen it and as the EDC seems to see it, is the innovative age.”

Rotmark said the model is in its early stages and they are using the new tools to test how successful the model can be.

“Even this model is an innovation and something we need to test and refine to make it as successful as it can be,” Rotmark said. “The United States is on the verge of becoming the world’s first entrepreneurial nation and we want Clallam County to be right there.”

“If the state recognizes this area as a place for innovation and partnerships, so should we.”

— Linda Rotmark, EDC director

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