Opinion: High-speed rail connecting Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland makes sense

Nov 20 2019, 9:03 am

Earlier this month, Microsoft held a conference with business, transportation, and government leaders to discuss the technical and development details regarding a high-speed rail (HSR) service connecting Vancouver’s core technical prowess with that of the influential economic centres in and around the greater Seattle area and further south to Portland.

Many wonder exactly what the purpose of such an expensive endeavor would be, or more so what the impact on either metropolitan industries would be.

Could things truly be impacted simply by adding a meaningful shortcut in terms of commute and travel? What do the three major hubs offer for one another in terms of profiting from a tangible and viable strand connecting them?

Let’s take a look at the industry impact that the proposed HSR along the Pacific Northwest corridor could have on each of the major locations planned along the line.

Seattle is a star

There’s no denying the fact that Seattle and its surrounding suburbs play home to some of the greatest international technology, entertainment, and development companies.

Somehow, this emerald jewel in the Pacific Northwest remains an underrated economic hub in the United States. Vancouverites might know the impact that Seattle maintains and nurtures on them, but it is often ignored when it comes to quantifying the emerging technologies industry the world over.

If there is one crucial addition that prolific technology hubs need more than anything, it’s access to more talent. With humongous companies and campuses, like the ever-expanding Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, there is never, in any realm, enough butts for all of those seats.

Technology companies all over the globe depend on visa and working sponsorships and immigration to land stellar talent and the right number of people they need for their projects.

Connecting one of America’s most bountiful technology regions with Canada’s hub of immigration and diversity releases a lot of pressure on travel and commutes between the two. Not only are we talking about all of the jobs that the creation and development of the HSR would create, it would funnel the labour talent and capital flows of both Portland and Vancouver into Seattle.

This will further establish Seattle as one of the world’s greatest centers for technology.

Vancouver: the growth spurt

In recent years, the largest names in technology and entertainment have changed the office market of downtown Vancouver, and this is reflected by their building name signs that proudly boast their presence in the city.

Names like Microsoft have recently opened up huge offices in Vancouver, alongside companies like Sony Pictures Imageworks, Salesforce, Slack, and Fujitsu.

Though being located in Canada can oftentimes put up barriers between talent and chairs, the immigration standards and procedures — especially when compared to the United States — ease the process a bit.

Unfortunately though, there’s no getting around the fact that not being within United States boundaries means that Vancouver is often left without recognition and access to the benefits that it would otherwise receive if it was located elsewhere.

Luckily for Canadian technology companies and those working there, it’s not a bias that is systemic, it’s simply an observation of world powers, and Canada has and continues to do major things to raise its value when it comes to global rankings.

The proximity of Vancouver to Seattle was a huge reason for Microsoft’s 2016 opening of their 120,000-sq-ft office in the CF Pacific Centre building that also houses Sony Pictures Imageworks’ international headquarters. The company also recently leased an additional 75,000-sq-ft office location in an under-construction building in downtown’s Gastown district.

Amazon is also making a big push in Vancouver. It is opening a new purpose-built 152,000-sq-ft office building in downtown in early 2020, and it has leased over 400,000 sq. ft. in the old Canada Post redevelopment next door, which will open in 2023. Both new offices will push Amazon’s corporate workforce in downtown Vancouver to 5,000 people.

So, if that’s any indication, unlocking the Pacific Northwest by HSR would offer American companies far more freedom to set up more of a presence in Vancouver.

Portland wears the pants

The gorgeous Oregon city wrapped around the Willamette River has never and most-likely will never be known as a boon of technology or global industry. The pride of Portland remains artistic intent, boutique craft, and independent ideals.

That being said, there’s plenty of potential in labour pool of Portland to make a big difference in the way industries are run and grown. Oregonians have an almost unmatched ability to maintain a uniqueness driven by pride, hustle, and the desire to “do things the best and right way.” This is a principle often missing in many regions. The addition of this workforce to industries of any kind is only going to improve things in the long run.

Where indie games and tech startups fly by with a do-it-all attitude, those in Portland, regardless of business, are raised to adopt that mentality by default. With the addition of the Pacific Northwest HSR, Portland could easily soon play home to a hotbed of startups, and would make a wonderful home for some superior headquarters.

Regardless of how great the proposed HSR will be upon completion, the green light hasn’t been given yet. Even if it were approved, the early feasibility and economic studies made public by the government of Washington State detail a decade-long development and construction period.

Years down the road, there may be a very tangible highway of talent throughout the Pacific Northwest, and it’s bound to change the way one of the most powerful regions develops and grows their technology industries. Until then, the best we can do is educate those outside of the industry, and support conference and talks regarding the planning of such an influential infrastructure.