The Willamette Valley town of Independence will get some help in its efforts to position itself as a leader in rural tech innovation. The Polk County community of around 10,000 people is just a 15 minute drive from the state capitol, but its economy has long been focused on agriculture.
City leaders figured the community would need something else in its economic portfolio to really flourish. So they made a big investment in high-speed internet, and used the region’s deep ties to farming to create a niche in the world of high tech. Shawn Irvine, the economic development director for the City of Independence, said it was a perfect match. “The tech industry is mostly in the city, and they don’t necessarily have direct ties to agriculture. So we saw an opportunity to be an interface between rural agriculture and urban technology,” said Irvine.
Now, that vision will get a boost from a Vermont non-profit called the Center On Rural Innovation. Independence is one of nine small cities nationwide to win a spot in the Center’s Rural Innovation Initiative. The Center said Independence rose to the top due to its pre-existing investment in high-speed internet, as well as due to its proximity to two universities: Western Oregon University in the neighboring community of Monmouth, and Oregon State University in nearby Corvallis.
The Center on Rural Innovation will provide technical support as Independence aims to refine its tech strategy to take advantage of the digital economy. "Rural Innovation Initiative participants will receive a range of support," according to the organization. The support will include on-site and video conference time, as well as "templates and written materials as they execute an innovation hub strategy: an economic development model that works to educate and train local residents in digital skills, employ them in new economy jobs, and empower them to launch the startups that will drive their digital economy."