Olympia’s Technology Niche Lies in Government Innovation

WTC’s 2005 Index of Innovation & Technology report shows Olympia rebounding from recession; regional strengths lie in support services for technology versus R&D.

Seattle – May 12, 2005 – Olympia, Washington may never been a hotbed for technology, but the region does show promise as a strong service and support center. According to the Washington Technology Center’s 2005 Index of Innovation & Technology, Olympia doesn’t have the research base or entrepreneurial culture to support an “innovation economy”; however, as the hub of state government, there are areas where Olympia could cultivate technology industry growth.
The Index, published annually as a benchmark report on Washington’s performance, includes detailed data on 12 regions in the state, evaluating them against critical drivers necessary to support a technology-driven economy.

In the 2005 report, Olympia’s only notable strength was in the area of human potential. Olympia captured the top spot for math & science proficiency at the 10th grade level and the 2nd place position for this same category at the 4th grade level. Olympia was one of five communities that experienced a positive change in technology employment. The region had 3 percent growth in both technology employment and total employment in 2003.* This was a significant rebound as Olympia showed one of the greatest losses in jobs the previous year – employment was down by more than 8 percent. Olympia also pays more competitive technology wages than many other communities – ranking third in the state in this measure.

The bright spots for Olympia lie in the region’s ability to capitalize on its strengths as a government center and tap into its intellectual capital. Government agencies are becoming more innovative and efficient by adopting a higher level of technology into their operations. The growth we are seeing is a result of the companies and workforce that support this technology.

It is not likely that Olympia will emerge a strong technology center when evaluated on traditional measures such as growth, innovation, and competitiveness. Olympia’s ranking in the areas of new company creation, patenting, and financial capacity are near the lower end of the communities measured – placing in the bottom five in all three categories. However, the region can look to capitalize on its potential as a service-based technology economy.

This is clear in the growth trend among Olympia’s the region’s dominant technology sectors. Only one industry, Management Consulting, saw growth. The other two industries (Wired Telecommunications, Custom Computer Programming) saw a decline in dominance from the previous year.

WTC’s Index of Innovation & Technology also includes a profile of Washington’s strengths comparing to other U.S. states. Washington has traditionally scored well on a number of indicators which points to the state’s ability to sustain a technology economy. For the fifth year consecutive year, Washington claimed the top spot for new company creation. Patent activity remained strong. Over 1,400 technology patents were generated, an increase of 8 percent from the previous year. This number has continued to climb since the Index was first published in 2000. Other significant trends for Washington include: One in ten jobs today is within a technology industry; 11 out of the 12 regions showed growth in at least one of their core technology industries; Software saw the highest increase in employment and national dominance since 1998; Venture Investment in Biotechnology nearly doubled, increasing from 8 to 15 percent.

A summary report is available on the WTC website at http://www.watechcenter.org/.
*Statistical data in the 2005 Index is from 2003, the most recent available at the time of publication.

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