The Northwest Tech Scene, Public Policy, and Collaboration: WTIA CEO Susan Sigl on Her First 100 Days & What’s In Store

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CEO side, because in a partnership you are forced to be collaborative—I mean, you have 15 years of collaboration, because in most partnerships there isn’t any room for split decisions, so most partnerships operate so you have to have a unanimous decision. And so when you come from that perspective, collaboration is just something that’s wired in you. So I think that’s a good thing to bring to the table, but you’re not going to collaborate right down to the finally decision. Somebody at some point, the CEO, is going to say that this is the way you’re going to go. You’re actually driving the bus.

And when you look at the sheer number of constituents in the WTIA, it is staggering. If you’re not collaborative, you’re not doing the job. Because you’ve got board members, you’ve got partner organizations, you’ve got sponsors, you’ve got members, you’ve got people who you’re targeting for board participation, for membership, for sponsorship, and you have your staff. It just goes on and on. And so really, almost my first two months, were spent meeting the constituents at the high level. And that was somewhat overwhelming just because of the sheer number of the people involved in the WTIA. And then, of course, that also includes the politicians, because they’re very interested in staying close to the organization and knowing what the tech sector is thinking about particular issues.

X: You’ve said you plan to focus the next year improving upon what the WTIA already does—what does this entail?

SS: So our No. 1 strategic initiative is to be more influential in public policy. And that’s part of this year of doing what we do better. It’s going to involve a lot more collaboration with other tech organizations in town around developing positions on policy that impacts the tech sector here in Washington, and also developing strategies by which we systematically stay in front of the whole policy setting mechanism. What does that translate to? It translates to something more than being visible during a session when the policy makers are in Olympia. I think the standard practice is really that you go down there, you have opinions, you meet with people, you express opinions on specific issues that you’re looking to promote. And this initiative is going to be much more about building a collaborative group that represent tech that are going to consistently stay after the policy piece whether sessions are in or session are not in. And I think that’s really a critical piece of what we’re up to.

X: Who are the other players in this group?

SS: Right now we are talking with the Washington Biotechnology & Biomedical Associationand the Tech Alliance about this initiative.

X: What are the big policy issues for the tech sector that are coming up in the next session?

SS: Of course we’ve got this I-1098, Washington state income tax initiative, in front of us. And we’re doing fact finding right now. So the WTIA hasn’t taken an official position. We are on the discovery of both the pro and cons of that issue. But our No. 1 consistent policy issue is going to be around K-12 public education and higher education, because that has such a tremendous impact on the tech sector. And we are actually in collaboration and in the process of discovering which other organizations are already way down the path of delivering on that, and how we can assist and join in the efforts to do that.

X: And what about after the next 12 months? What’s next? Any plans to expand the sectors you represent?

SS: At this point in time we have not specifically said what target industries might come under the WTIA umbrella in the longer term. But as the tech sector evolves, I think that is something that is also a dynamic. Ten years ago, or 15 years ago, we probably wouldn’t have even been talking about cleantech, or gaming, or some of the things that are now so pervasive and are sectors that we serve—like cloud computing. And I think that’s what will continue. Because we are a dynamic industry, as sectors bubble up and get more mature, that will inform what we want to do, as well as will proactively look at sectors that might be underserved.

X: Have you worked with the Washington Clean Technology Alliance, or any other local tech organizations?

SS: We have a really good relationship with Byron McCann, who preceded Tom Ranken. And so we have cross-promoted their events. In fact we actually, the WTIA, this year did a three-part series on cleantech that was really well received. They were half-day events, mainly educational and networking. The first one was on the smart grid, and then we did one on biofuels, and then we did one on renewable energies. But we actually invited Byron to come and promote his Cleantech Alliance events at those. So there’s a lot of collaboration there. In the end, we’re all in the same general sector, and we want tech to succeed, and we’re here to support it. And we have a great relationship with the WBBA as well, so we do a lot of partnering with them, and are here to support them in any way that we can. And it will be the same thing with the Cleantech Alliance.

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