Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash) was the keynote speaker at an event in Tacoma, Wash. this week sponsored by Maritime Blue, a Washington state public-private coalition that promotes ocean-related technologies and operates an incubator in Tacoma .
Kilmer served on the Tacoma-Pierce County Economic Development Committee for a decade before running for office and has an associate who serves on the steering committee of the Tacoma Maritime Innovation Incubator. In 2019, he was appointed chair of the Special Committee on Congressional Modernization, charged with leading Congress into the 21st century.
Here’s a synopsis of his comments at the event, held at TractionSpace’s Tacoma coworking offices. Responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.
On the importance of innovative entrepreneurs
It’s important that we all wrap our arms around innovative companies, innovative entrepreneurs who are doing cool things here in our community. Now, why does this matter: If you look at the economic recovery data, it’s not the big boys that create jobs and pull us out of economic challenges. It is generally small companies that do this important work.
About state support for entrepreneurs
I think of entrepreneurs like our star running back. They’re the guys who mine the hard yards that score the touchdowns. And I think part of the federal government’s role, part of the role of the local economic development people and the city leadership and others, is to make sure we put some blockage on you and make sure we pass you the ball. And at least make sure that we’re going to get out of your way so you can get the touchdowns we need you to do.
About the blue economy
I feel like this is a blue business week for me. We just had the US Secretary of Energy come to our region to talk about the blue economy. And she came to Sequim to visit the PNNL lab, the only Department of Energy marine science lab in the country. It was the first time that either an undersecretary or a secretary of energy came to our region to actually see these blue economy opportunities.
I’ve strayed from using another football analogy and not referencing someone who no longer plays for our team, but as Russell Wilson said, “Why not us?” I think about the opportunities in the blue economy and mine reaction is why don’t we? Why don’t you see those opportunities here in Tacoma and here in our region? One of the reasons I supported the federal grant for the maritime incubator was because there is such an opportunity here to foster opportunities in energy and clean water, as well as logistics and maritime innovation.
About the importance of incubators
why not us Why not here? One of the reasons I supported this is the idea of supporting entrepreneurs with mentoring and space and with access to funders and all the important things that incubators do. It’s child’s play. We should work towards this, and quite frankly, the federal government should support this work. So I think this is really a blessing to our fellowship and all who participate. Anyone who supports it or cheers for it, thanks for that, because I think it’s really, really important.
On the CHIPS law
A few weeks ago, Congress passed a piece of legislation called the CHIPS Act, which focused primarily on making semiconductors here in the US and not elsewhere. But there were other components of this bill that focused on supporting entrepreneurship, supporting innovation, supporting science education, and supporting innovations emerging from our colleges and universities.
Importantly, it also included $1 billion for a program I wrote that focuses on investing in communities, including neighborhoods facing ongoing economic challenges. If you look at the borough I represent, there are quite a number of neighborhoods and communities that are facing ongoing economic challenges.
On the anti-inflation law
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Inflation Reduction Act passed on Friday. Obviously, the primary focus is on reducing costs for the American people, and people will see implications in terms of lowering health care premiums. Prescription drug costs and hopefully a reduction in gas prices over time. But it also represents the most significant investment in history to combat the climate crisis, and it is truly an example of the US stepping up and trying to show leadership.
One of the reasons I mentioned that when we had the Energy Secretary visit is that her focus isn’t just on big regulatory issues or things like that. She wants to make sure we drive climate entrepreneurship and see small businesses take advantage of some of the opportunities that will come from passing this new law. And I really believe, as I share this with each and every one of you, every entrepreneur here at Maritime Blue, that if we strive for it, we will see opportunities.
About the importance of togetherness
I firmly believe that the boat moves best when all oars are in the water and rowing in the same direction. It’s a bit different than in Congress, where the oars are often out of the water and people are actively hitting each other on the head. But I think Tacoma is showing what we can achieve when we work together on things, and this incubator is a great example of that.
About finding ways to retain tech talent in Tacoma and Pierce County
We have a lot of great ingredients. We have many smart people living here [but] Many of them take Interstate 5 every day, and we’d love to have opportunities not to. I say this as someone sadly about to get onto Interstate 5. So the role of our colleges and universities is very important in this regard. The role that Andrew Fry (principal at the University of Washington Tacoma School of Engineering and Technology) is playing in trying to facilitate industry connections between entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship students and startups and things like that is significant.
One of the reasons we have this momentum is because we have more affordable housing than Seattle. But we have a supply problem on the apartment front here in Tacoma, and it’s putting a lot of strain on people. So we’ve been working on some legislation and trying to push the development of additional affordable housing. We’ve actually been able to get federal grants under the Grants Act for literally hundreds and hundreds of additional affordable housing units here in Tacoma. This is important. It’s not the only thing we have to do, but it’s one thing we have to do.
I actually think efforts like the incubator are important because they allow people to start here, network here and hopefully grow and stay here.