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Brad Smith, Microsoft president and CFO, and Telus Executive Vice President Josh Blair at the Cascadia Innovation Corridor conference in Vancouver B.C. last year. (GeekWire Photo / Nat Levy)

Pacific Northwest business and political leaders on both sides of the Canadian border announced today a series of agreements to strengthen relationships between Seattle, Portland, Vancouver B.C. and the surrounding areas.

The new partnerships, made ahead of the second Cascadia Innovation Corridor conference in Seattle this week, focus on technology, economic development, education and transportation. Government officials, universities, companies and research institutions are participating in the effort, which is meant to bring together the regions that have a lot in common but are separated by an international border.

Here is a look at some of the new agreements announced ahead of the conference this week:

  • One of the most intriguing ideas that came out of last year’s conference was a vision to build high-speed trains that would travel between Seattle and Vancouver in less than an hour. That idea is still alive and well. Microsoft kicked in $50,000 to supplement the state of Washington’s $300,000 budget to study the plan.
  • The Global Innovation Exchange, a partnership between the University of Washington Tsinghua University in China, has added a third university to its program: University of British Columbia. The graduate technology school is housed in Bellevue, Wash. and will welcome its first class this fall. Microsoft chipped in $40 million for the school, which will be taught by teachers from UW, Tsinghua and now UBC. Students have the opportunity to spend time at each campus.
  • One of the most complicated parts of building a multi-national innovation partnership is financing. The Seattle-Vancouver Financial Innovation Network, with support from Microsoft and Madrona Venture Group, was formed to overcome those issues. The aim is to bring together investors, tech companies and regulators to establish an “international financial center” that makes it easier for investors on both sides of the border to pour money into tech companies.
  • Lake Washington Institute of Technology, British Columbia Institute of Technology and Oregon Institute of Technology will come together to build common curriculums and expand professional opportunities for students in the STEM fields throughout the corridor.
  • A new startup accelerator program covering Washington, Oregon and British Columbia will include business incubators, accelerators and universities initially with the possibility of adding venture capital firms and other innovation partners.

The inaugural Cascadia conference last year in Vancouver looked at how Seattle and Vancouver could work together to become an innovation hub through sessions on government leadership, education, transportation and investment. This year the scope is broader, including Oregon and representatives of other Northwest institutions. Microsoft has been a driving force in the cooperation between the regions, as well as the Cascadia conference, after opening a big development office in Vancouver last year.

“Last year we came together as a region to build something that we simply can’t create apart: an innovation corridor to create more opportunity and prosperity on both sides of the border,” Microsoft President Brad Smith said. “By linking our two cities together through cross-border collaboration, research, funding and educational opportunities, we will spur new economic activity and opportunity that creates a better future for everyone.”

This year’s conference slate doesn’t have headliners the magnitude of last year’s rare public conversation between Microsoft Co-founder Bill Gates and its current CEO Satya Nadella. But political and academic leaders from Washington and British Columbia will be joined by tech heavyweights like Microsoft’s Smith, Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman, Hootsuite CEO Ryan Holmes and more.

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