Economic development program details unveiled

Group told innovation cluster program could transform economy

PORT ANGELES — A federally-funded, state-run economic development program could help create or transform industries, a group of about 15 people were told at a state Department of Commerce presentation at the Port of Port Angeles headquarters.

“I think it’s a lot of work, but it could accelerate different economic opportunities for Clallam County,” Colleen McAleer, executive director of the Clallam County Economic Development Council, said in a later interview about the Washington State Innovation Cluster Accelerator.

“And I think it’s really critical that’s it’s industry-driven, so it’s something our employers will be interested in,” she said.

Both Clallam and Jefferson counties qualify to apply for the program.

Requests for proposal are due by 5 p.m. April 3 to Commerce will select four Cohort 1 recipients to receive $50,000 for start-up funding.

Clallam and Jefferson counties qualify as Cohort 1 because they are rural as well as having “historically underserved, disadvantaged or marginalized communities or groups.”

Commerce will select four Cohort 1 organizations to receive up to $50,000 capacity building funding to support their participation in the program.

The $50,000 funding will cover from May 8, 2023, to June 30, 2024. Substantive or procedural questions are due March 24 and will be answered by March 29.

McAleer said the more important element is not the $50,000 being offered by the state but rather the designation offered by the state as an innovative area.

Such a designation not only helps attract capital, it also helps when the county pursues future federal economic development funding, she said.

The Clallam County commissioners will discuss the innovation cluster program at a future work session, McAleer said.

According to the state Department of Commerce, clusters are formalized, industry-led, member-based organizations working together to drive innovation, overcome barriers, access new market opportunities and attract talent and capital.

“They are an economic development strategy to grow and develop existing industries, transform legacy industries and build entirely new, future-focused industries,” the state said. “Clusters begin by identifying market opportunities the cluster will pursue.”

Successful proposals will demonstrate the industry’s importance, potential impact and engage core team as well as identify initial and future “ecosystem members.”

Following the presentation, many of the attendees met in another room for a discussion that McAleer described as productive.

“That’s so we can get on the same page and make sure we as a county all have gotten behind one idea. We need to show an organized consortium that agrees on a common direction,” McAleer said.

Lilie Eriksen, industry sector integration manager at the state Department of Commerce, said, “It’s a new approach that puts industry at the forefront to transform existing industries and develop high-value industries.”

She told of a real-world example of how the Enterprise Digital Growth Ecosystem Cluster used 5G technology to help a farmer discover he was overwatering by 30 percent.

Another potential example Eriksen gave was the electrification of boats that would bring together a shipbuilder with a battery manufacturer and the U.S. Coast Guard to figure out where to locate charging stations and other infrastructure.

The state’s Innovation Cluster Accelerator, launched in 2021, is the first statewide innovation cluster development program in the United States. The state currently has nine clusters and there’s an estimated 7,000 innovation clusters worldwide. The idea originated in Scandanavia’s maritime industry.

For more information, see


Reporter Brian Gawley can be reached at

Terry Ward, publisher of the Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum, is chairman of the Clallam County Economic Development Council board of directors.

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