In 1962, the world came to Washington State to see the future. Seattle was the host of a world’s fair, the Century 21 Exposition, and its futuristic theme electrified crowds throughout it six-month run. World’s fair exhibitors predicted a fantastic world to come, one where video games would be projected on large screens in the home, power tools would be cordless, books and libraries digital, and homes would be so smart that you could turn the lights or heat on and off with your phone.
Fifty-five years later, Washington continues to lead the way with breathtakingly fresh innovations and inventions. Inspired perhaps by the fair’s iconic Space Needle that still commands the Seattle skyline, companies around the state continue to blaze new trails, making the impossible possible, from machine learning and robotics to new building materials and transportation systems.
Thanks to the lowest cost energy in the United States, server farms are springing up next to traditional agricultural farms in Eastern Washington, taking advantage of the plentiful, renewable energy provided by the largest hydroelectric power grid in the nation. Amazon and Microsoft, the two juggernauts of cloud computing, are headquartered in Washington. Together they command a 40 percent market share of the cloud computing market, which is estimated to be a $23 billion industry. Fueled by the growth in cloud computing, hundreds of innovative startups have opened their doors throughout the state.
Building on its leadership in the cloud, the state is rapidly becoming a center for artificial intelligence as well. Microsoft and Amazon are anchoring this groundbreaking work, along with researchers at major universities and the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence. These businesses and organizations are joined by more than a hundred startups that are focusing on various aspects of machine learning, artificial intelligence, natural language processing, algorithms, data analytics and more. Recognizing the state’s leadership in AI and machine learning, Google, Facebook, Oracle, Apple, HP, Uber, Lyft, Twitter, Splunk and other technology companies have opened engineering offices in Washington in recent years.
From manufacturing and order fulfillment to agriculture, robotics are increasingly part of a company’s strategy for success. Washington’s economy is already engaged in robotics at many levels. Automation giants such KUKA and Electroimpact are pioneering state-of-the-art robotic projects, including construction of the new composite wing structures for the Boeing 777X and a robotic aircraft paint shop that offers more precision while using less paint. In Eastern Washington, farmers are experimenting with robotic harvesting technologies to fill roles once performed by workers. Amazon is automating their warehouses on a large scale, adding robotic systems to pick, transport and store products in their distribution centers throughout the country.
To reduce carbon emissions and improve traffic flows, Washington companies are working on a number of bleeding edge technologies. A good example is MTorres, which is developing new technologies that would allow the fuselage of passenger aircraft to be constructed entirely out of composites, creating a lighter, more fuel-efficient plane. The state is also leading the way in the area of electrifying ships and aircraft propulsion. The Maritime BLUE initiative is exploring fast-charging systems that would allow state passenger ferries to electrify, greatly reducing the use of fossil fuels while dramatically reducing emissions. Other companies are taking advantage of the state’s mastery of hardware, software and communication systems so the nation’s transportation network can welcome autonomous vehicles.
Washington has long been involved in space exploration. Aerojet Rocketdyne has built hundreds of rockets which have launched vehicles to the edge of the solar system and beyond since the 1950s. They have been joined by relative newcomers such Blue Origin and Planetary Resources as well as a growing engineering office for SpaceX’s new generation of communication satellites. Another Washington success story, Spaceflight Industries, has already put nearly a hundred satellites into orbit and is under contract for 130 more.
More than a hundred companies are exploring advanced materials, from composites to cross-laminated timber (CLT). To meet increasing demand, new cross-laminated timber facilities are under construction in eastern Washington. Stronger than steel and concrete, CLT can use small diameter trees that were once thinned out of forests to reduce the severity of wildfires. Advanced manufacturing materials and techniques find their way into a range of Washington-made products, from guitars, canoes and Pickleball rackets to automobile panels and prosthetic legs.
The state that gave the world kidney dialysis machines, portable heart defibrillators and bone marrow transplants, continues to lead the way in the field of medical innovation. Washington’s information and communication technology sector – 14,000+ companies strong – creates endless opportunities for collaboration with the life science/global health field. Organizations such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and PATH leverage this culture of collaboration to offer new solutions for such global health issues as clean drinking water, transportable perishable vaccines, rural pre-natal care and new cures for life-robbing diseases.
You’re in Very Good Company
Part of Washington’s secret sauce is the rugged pioneer spirit that is deeply ingrained in the culture. This legendary entrepreneurial mindset, combined with vast intellectual capital and a collaborative environment, has drawn some of the most well-known and respected companies in the world to Washington, including 800 multinational firms such as Mitsubishi, Philips Healthcare, REC Silicon, Safran, Sharp, Shell, Toray and Zodiac.
Washington is truly a study in contrasts. Featuring an educated, highly-productive workforce, a smart, multi-faceted sector-driven strategy, a critical mass of legendary companies and a healthy startup community targeting the next big idea that changes the world, Washington continues to enjoy historic economic growth and expansion.
The state is definitely riding a wave of success and the future is bright for bold entrepreneurs and investors who want to cash into what amounts to a modern gold rush. One only has to look at the dozens upon dozens of construction cranes dotting the state to know that opportunity abounds in Washington for companies large or small.
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