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Brad Smith, Microsoft president and general counsel, and Telus Executive Vice President Josh Blair. Nat Levy / GeekWire Photo.
Brad Smith, Microsoft president and chief legal officer, and Telus Executive Vice President Josh Blair. Nat Levy / GeekWire Photo.

Updated with comments from Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and British Columbia Premier Christy Clark below.

VANCOUVER, B.C. — Seattle and Vancouver are two peas in a pod in many ways, despite being separated by an international border, and the two cities could get to the next level if they work together to maximize opportunities and fix major problems.

That’s the sentiment from business and political leaders as they open the Emerging Cascadia Innovation Corridor Conference this morning. The conference is looking at how Seattle and Vancouver can work together to become an innovation hub through sessions on government leadership, education, transportation and investment.

Microsoft has been a big proponent of the Cascadia corridor. In June, the company opened a development center in downtown Vancouver. Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer, this morning trumpeted both cities’ natural beauty, access to top Asian markets and technology and innovation history. But none of those are the region’s greatest strength. That would be its people, Smith said.

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Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith.

“If you had to pick one thing in which you wanted to be the best, I would argue this is the thing you would pick. If you could start with great talent, whether you are a company or a city or a region, you can build the rest,” Smith said.

Smith followed Telus Executive Vice President Josh Blair at the conference. Telus is one of the largest employers in Vancouver and is planning to bring fifth generation (5G) data to Vancouver, over WiFi by 2020. Blair said the economy in Vancouver is home to strong home-grown companies as well as a lot of U.S. companies. In addition to Microsoft, Amazon and Tableau both have Vancouver offices.

Blair offered three tenets that will allow the Cascadia region to succeed: a backbone of strong technology across all business sectors, a culture of innovation and creative partnerships between businesses and government organizations.

“I believe we truly can turn the Cascadia Corridor into a global innovation leader, and I believe we can give Silicon Valley a run for its money and a run for its talent,” Blair said.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and British Columbia Premier Christy Clark. Nat Levy / GeekWire Photo.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and British Columbia Premier Christy Clark. Nat Levy / GeekWire Photo.

UPDATE: 10:50 a.m.

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Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

The effort to make Seattle and Vancouver a connected region extends from state and province levels to business leaders to city officials. At the conference, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and British Columbia Premier Christy Clark signed a memorandum of cooperation, similar to the one announced Monday signed by Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson.

“We do believe the whole is greater than the sum of the parts in the Cascadia technology corridor, and I think that’s what we are here to explore,” Inslee said.

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British Columbia Premier Christy Clark.

Clark envisioned a future where Vancouver and Seattle function like a “region without borders.” One example Clark cited could be a situation where a college student starts a program at the University of British Columbia, and then finishes it at the University of Washington.

The word innovation has been used a lot at the conference, but Inslee and Clark both believe an aligned Seattle-Vancouver region, with the BC Cancer Agency and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, could complete one of the biggest possible breakthroughs: finding a cure for cancer.

“Between these two institutions, and the ease of movement we want to have across the border, I think we are going to cure it, and we are going to cure it here,” Clark said.

Check back throughout the day for more from the conference, including a keynote featuring a rare joint appearance of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and its CEO Satya Nadella.

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