Weekly B-MOW: Interactive Media Industry Cluster Tour

It’s always a good day to get out of the office and learn something new. It’s especially a good day when you’re learning about something that is creating huge economic impact for our region’s economy. And it’s a real winner when something that’s creating lots of new jobs in the region is also cool and fun…like video games. Put that all together and what do you get? Seems like a Best Meeting of the Week to me. Join me for a tour down memory lane of last Friday’s fantastic Interactive Media Industry Cluster Tour!

As usual with our quarterly bus tours, a great group of local economic development stakeholders joined us for a very full day of stops: an overview presentation on the industry by Chris Mefford of Community Attributes, followed by a tour of Big Fish Games, a presentation from the UW’s Center for Games Science, a one-on-one discussion at DigiPen with their founder, and a panel discussion featuring four interactive media companies (PopCap, Hidden Path, 5th Cell and HER Interactive). Somehow, we actually made it back early…at least in small part thanks to that cop pulling people over for being single occupancy on the 520 HOV lane. By the way, if you want to see that panel discussion, we have a great video of it: Part One and Part Two.

The big take away? Talent is king. Seriously. I can’t tell you how many times people talked about the availability of good video game talent as the major reason why so many companies are located here. And it’s something that money can’t buy…even though it’s trying. We heard stories of places like Louisiana, Rhode Island and Michigan offering huge incentives like $1 million in no interest loans per employee or rent free office space for ten years.

And yet, these companies aren’t willing to relocate because they want to be where the employees and potential employees are. Now, I don’t say this in the “well, we’ve got nothing to worry about…no matter how much money other states throw at these companies, they’ll always be here!” In fact, exactly the opposite. Because we don’t do incentives, all we have is that one advantage – talent – which means that, if we don’t continue to attract it and develop it, we’re in big trouble. And so, what do we need to do in terms of supporting places like DigiPen, funding our community college and university programs and the like? How can we help facilitate internships and K-12 programs that get kids into the industry? What role can we play in expanding H-1B visas so that it’s easier to get international talent here for these smaller companies? And how do we make this a great place to live and work for people who move here to work in the business?

Lots of questions that need to be answered. And I say “need to be” because we’re talking about a $4.2 billion in annual revenues associated with 15,000 jobs. It goes without saying that, if we lose those jobs, it would be “game over” for an exciting part of our economy.

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