Tri-Cities Research District helps part Cascade Curtain

By the Herald editorial staff

A lot of people see a divide between the east and west sides of our state.

But instead of a curtain of rain and a mountain range blocking the view eastward from the Puget Sound, some savvy investors from the west side see only a land of opportunity here in the Tri-Cities.

Wayne Perry and Cal Cannon have plans for a multi-million-dollar development in the Tri-Cities Research District in north Richland.

The vision is to attract research and manufacturing companies and provide amenities that make for a good work environment, such as nearby restaurants and gas stations.

The first phase of the Innovation Center at the 1,700-acre Tri-Cities Research District is expected to cost $25 million. These two investors have the coin for it. Both used to be executives at McCaw Cellular -- which became part of AT&T Wireless. Enough said.

The initial phase will be a retail and pedestrian plaza on 7.5 acres. Space will be created for restaurants, office suites and an underground parking garage.

A survey of some of the 7,000 people already working in the area showed the desire for coffee shops, eateries and other amenities.

So the developers are starting with a component that helps fulfill the district's "live, work, play" concept. Construction on roads and infrastructure will begin in the fall.

And while that is in the near term, the entire project isn't expected to be complete for 10 to 15 years.

That's a good thing. To succeed, economic development needs forethought and deliberate steps toward a long-term vision.

Not every grand plan that's announced comes to fruition. But this one appears to be solid, with the investors expecting to put $8 million into land, permits and the like before the first shovel of dirt is turned.

The developers believe the Innovation Center will make the Tri-Cities even more competitive on a global playing field.

They'll find a lot of agreement on that point. Plans for the center complement the commitment Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Washington State University Tri-Cities already have made to the district.

Tremendous potential exists for making the Tri-Cities Research District a world-class hub for clean energy, biotechnology, nuclear medicine, agribusiness and other high-tech industries.

The partnership between the national laboratory and one of the state's research universities is a great foundation for building this important piece of the Mid-Columbia's economic future.

The work is well under way. More than 80 private businesses are in the district. No one is arguing that much of the potential remains untapped, however.

Attracting more private money to the district is crucial to making the vision a reality. It's why so much excitement is attached to the Innovation Center project.

The developers say they were convinced to come here by the Tri-Cities Research District's vision for the whole Tri-Cities as a breeding ground for technology and economic interests.

"We're betting the Tri-Cities is a good business opportunity for us -- and for clean tech companies," Perry said.

That's a good bet.