Seattle and Vancouver are promising cities for established tech companies and startups alike — but challenges remain in the establishment of a true Pacific Northwestern tech hub.
Although 140 miles of traffic-burdened highway and an international border separate them, Seattle and Vancouver share a striking number of similarities. Both have a relatively young, well-educated population, booming economies, and are already home to some of the world’s biggest tech giants and innovators (think Microsoft and Amazon). Political and business leaders are now working to establish a tech corridor between the two cities to allow the freer flow of capital, people, and ideas.
The “Cascadia Innovation Corridor”
While Vancouver and Seattle already boast two of the most flourishing economies in North America, the establishment of a more formalized tech corridor connecting the cities would yield significant economic and political benefits. For example, tech giants like Microsoft have an unprecedented need to hire foreign immigrants with degrees in computer science, because the U.S. education system does not produce nearly the number of graduates necessary to staff their business. Getting a work visa in the U.S., however, is increasingly difficult, especially in the current political climate. Canada’s immigration process is much smoother and simpler, allowing companies like Microsoft to quickly recruit the international talent they require.
In exchange, Vancouver hopes that bringing in American tech companies will help stoke the fire of its own homegrown startup scene. The city’s economy, which has its roots in timber and shipping, has diversified greatly in the past few decades, particularly with the growth of the film and video game production industries. Vancouver is also home to social media darling Hootsuite.
In L&T’s “7 Defining Characteristics of a ‘Startup Friendly City,’” Jamie Ayers notes that in order to be considered “startup friendly,” cities must be innovation-oriented, have a flourishing ecosystem, a skilled workforce, and be investment-friendly. With the amount of resources tech companies have poured into both Seattle and Vancouver, combined with the support of local civic leaders, it would appear that the Pacific Northwestern corridor is well on its way to becoming an official tech hub.
Trouble in Northwest Paradise
The largest issue with this tech corridor boils down to one thing: affordability. According to the New York Times, “the median price for a detached home in the [Vancouver] metropolitan area in August  was 1.4 million Canadian dollars (about $1.06 million)…In the San Francisco metropolitan area, the median single family home price was about $848,000.”
Indeed, Vancouver was recently ranked the third most unaffordable city in the world. And while Silicon Valley tech jobs pay an average of $112,000 a year, the same jobs in Vancouver pay under $49,000. The astronomical cost of living affects companies like Microsoft’s ability to hire more senior executives and employees, who may have families for whom they need to provide. While young employees may be able to cut costs by living in tiny apartments with multiple roommates, older employees often face difficulties finding an affordable home that meets their family’s needs.
Transportation between the two growing cities is also becoming increasingly difficult. With heavy traffic and a busy international border slowing down commuters, alternative modes of travel have been proposed. Among the ideas? The creation of a high speed light rail that would transport employees between the cities in less than an hour, and the establishment of a dedicated lane on the highway for autonomous vehicles. While it may be some time before this region truly earns the designation of “tech corridor,” let it be known by tech wizards and investors alike: Seattle and Vancouver are well on their way.