As a Seattle resident, this field in Walla Walla, Washington, an area famous for growing sweet onions, looked the way I expected.
Downtown Walla Walla was a different story. We visited Walla Walla last September and found the streets lined with winery tasting rooms. Walla Walla's wine industry grew from 20 wineries in 2000 to 140 in 2014 (1) and several have tasting rooms in downtown Walla Walla.
This amazing proliferation of wineries and their tasting rooms results from a unique collaboration between entrepreneurs, investors, the state government, and Walla Walla Community College. All these groups worked together to create an ecosystem that would support these small businesses and attract people to the Walla Walla area.
In 2000, a $5 million donation to Walla Walla Community College from the wine industry and private sources launched the viticulture incubators. Today, there are five incubators, each housing a different start-up winery (2). Tenants begin with a cheap monthly rent that increases over the six years their allowed to stay. At least one winery owner is a graduate from the viticulture program at Walla Walla Community College. Now, the Walla Walla wine industry generates some $430 million in business and supports 10% of the wine and tourism jobs in the county (3).
Will colleges be able to support their local biotech economies in a similar way?
Pasadena City College, Austin Community College, Santa Fe Community College, Forsyth Technical Community College, and others are working to find out. Pasadena City College started the Pasadena Bio Collaborative Incubator in 2004 in partnership with the city of Pasadena (4). Like its winery equivalents in Walla Walla, Pasadena Bio provides space for startups, assists companies in developing their business plans, and provides opportunities for students to develop the skills needed by industry. According to the article in Pasadena Now, these efforts are beginning to pay off.