Inspiring Works From Rural Farms, Forests, & Charming Villages on the Salish Sea

SJI Innovation Center Planning Group

Planning Project: SJI Innovation Center.

Regenerative Solutions for Agriculture and Food, Green Designs and Energy,  Environmental Programs, Arts and Culture.


The San Juan Islands face challenging risks due to geographic isolation, a tenuous power grid, unreliable ferry services, a fluctuating seasonal economy, a shortage of affordable housing, and high land / materials access costs. These vulnerabilities affect the islands’ 17,000 residents every day.


The Islands’ strengths are having innovative thinkers and creative problem solvers, an unmatched natural resource setting, and an intersecting value system that actively seeks to resolve economic, community service and environmental challenges. A coalition of community organizations and advisors is working on planning a new Innovation Center facility to house organizations and small businesses that share a commitment to addressing urgent and long-term community solutions.



Project and facility goals include: strengthening a year-round economy that attracts the next generation of business owners, building near and long-term rural resiliency and community safety, protecting the natural environment, supporting regenerative land use and economic strategies, and increasing preparedness in the face of climate change, pandemic and future wide scale impact event challenges.



Innovation Center tenants will operate in individual or flex-space leased units and will participate in collaborative planning and implementation projects that address community challenges and opportunities across the San Juan Islands. Examples of tenants and on-site services:



  • Value-added food producers, land and marine
  • Eco-wise engineering, technology, landscape and construction companies
  • Makerspace workshops and light industrial manufacturing
  • Environmental research and action organizations and university partners
  • Green energy development and waste stream reduction/reuse projects
  • Human services and child care
  • A food center with commercial kitchen and cold/dry storage
  • Ecotourism operators and educational organizations
  • Forestry and soil product Developers and resellers
  • A food court featuring local grown ingredients
  • Affordable housing for the island workforce
  • Meeting, classroom and conference space

Feasibility Study

During 2023, the Innovation Center project is conducting a countywide feasibility study in conjunction with the Northwest Agriculture Business Center in Mt Vernon. This study is examining small business and community stakeholder organization needs, goals and barriers. The study is also building a public / private advisory group to explore proven and potential innovation center models and funding sources.



The Ports of Skagit, Whidbey and Everett are regional models serving as guideposts for this economic development facility process and serve as examples of mixed-use business park, retail, business incubator, and residential developments. The Northwest Innovation Resource Center has been invited to explore creating a San Juan Island Innovation Lab at the Center, and programs at Western Washington University, Skagit Valley College, and Washington State University are being invited to consider ways a new facility could help benefit their service goals. The project also invites the Ports of Friday Harbor, Orcas and Lopez, pertinent County Departments, the San Juan Islands Conservation District, Land Trust, and other appropriate community organizations to participate in this inclusive research effort.



The Northwest Agriculture Business Center, the San Juan Islands Agricultural Guild, Friday Harbor Chamber of Commerce, The San Juan Island Grange, Transition San Juan, the San Juan Islands Makers Guild and the San Juan County Economic Development Council are contributing to the planning process for the Innovation Center and are early adopter stakeholders in the feasibility study design and implementation.

The first six months of the study focuses on gathering data from a broad spectrum of small business and community stakeholders, as well as supportive regional organizations on the mainland, to conduct needs, barriers and opportunities assessments. Along with quantifying those findings, the study is actively undertaking three additional important objectives:



  • visiting and documenting potential public and private buildable sites, estimated to be a 20-30 acre site on San Juan (120,000 square feet of leasable space) with 1-5 acre satellite sites on Orcas, Lopez, Shaw and Waldron Islands as potential sister facilities
  • conducting design charrettes that encourage community input in possible facility development scenarios
  • determining a sustainable and scalable business plan for operating the Innovation Center.

As a result of these four assessment and planning efforts, in Year Two, the project will select a site or sites and undertake full architectural and engineering designs while raising funding for site/s development and construction. Possible sites include Port lands, County lands, State lands that can be deeded to a host agency (per Port of Skagit model), and private land that can be acquired by the Port with out FAA restrictions, or by other Innovation Center partners, including affordable housing partners.

Invitation to Stakeholders

The Innovation Center planning group invites your participation in data gathering and sharing efforts of the feasibility study and in follow-up planning and design activities. We are organizing stakeholder circles in three inclusive thematic groups: Economic, Community and Culture, and Environmental.



Examples of Economic stakeholders include: small businesses, farmers and value-added producers, makers and inventors, tourism operators, food system retailers and restaurants/caterers, designers, engineers and manufacturers.



Community and Cultural stakeholders include human service organizations, cultural organizations including historical museums and performing/visual arts centers, affordable housing developers, and cultural creatives in all fields.



Environmental stakeholders includes ecological organizations, green product developers, eco-tourism operators, adaptive material reuse product developers, green energy developers.




Contact: Marcy Montgomery 

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