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State funding aimed at helping Okanogan County orgs study economic development

 A road sign marks the border of Okanogan County.
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Three Okanogan County organizations will undertake economic development studies, thanks to $50,000 state grants.

TwispWorks, Room One and Blue Sky Minds are recipients of ICAP Launch grants, a funding suite intended to help Washington’s rural communities explore creating an innovation cluster. An innovation cluster is an economic development network built around a common theme. Participants in the clusters often include nonprofits, educational institutions, and private companies.

“With strong, focused public-private coalitions operating in a cluster framework, communities and regions are more successful at cultivating businesses and creating jobs needed to thrive,” Washington Commerce Director Mike Fong said in a statement.

The money from ICAP Launch will be especially helpful in finding out whether the Methow Valley can support an innovation cluster, said Patrick Law, economic program director for TwispWorks.

“We found that we didn’t really have the capacity to even begin the process,” Law said. “This program, basically, is a long-term feasibility study on different sectors of the economy that are identified by host communities, to see if it’s feasible to develop an innovation cluster.”

TwispWorks is acting as a facilitator for other involved parties, under the theme of a “circular economy.” As defined under this project, a circular economy would find ways to break down and re-use consumer products instead of just throwing them away, Law said.

Finding out whether that could spark economic growth and jobs involves understanding the challenges and opportunities of trying to launch a circular economy in the Methow Valley, Law said. Some partners have already been identified, including Methow Recycles, Mazama Store, Mazama Cycle and Sport, Wastewise Methow, Eqpd and Western Washington University.

Room One and Blue Sky also located in the Methow Valley. Their ICAP Launch money will be used to explore the feasibility of building an innovation cluster around equitable and sustainable foods. Their partners include farmers, food producers, restaurants and nonprofit groups in the Okanogan region.

The grants will fund year-long studies for both projects. If the results are positive, the groups may be able to apply for further money to help actually start the innovation cluster concept.

Washington’s innovation cluster program launched last year, according to the Department of Commerce. Clusters based in clean energy technology, quantum computing, and sustainable aviation fuels have already been initiated.

Brandon Hollingsworth is your All Things Considered host. He has served public radio audiences for fifteen years, primarily in reporting, hosting and interviewing. His previous ports-of-call were WUOT-FM in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Alabama Public Radio. His work has been heard nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here and Now and NPR’s top-of-the-hour newscasts.