CDA’s innovation hub hopes to go national

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LOREN BENOIT/NIBJ The former Elks Building on Lakeside Avenue in downtown Coeur d’Alene is now one of North Idaho’s most vibrant centers of innovation — the Innovation Den.

Within the next couple decades, almost half the jobs we know today will be gone.

That’s the word from researchers and economists who use computer models that document changes in the workplace over the past century.

The minds behind the Innovation Collective are working in Coeur d’Alene to nip the trend in the bud, and they’re now offering to help other communities do the same.

“Innovation Collective has developed a system so that any community can begin their transformation today,” says the group’s website, “We have created three levels of engagement geared toward the most common scenarios that we see as we work to rebuild community and economic opportunity across the world.”

The three levels of engagement come with varying prices: a free community builder license that provides a basic blueprint for recreating the Innovation Collective model in any city; a community manager coaching license that comes with more support for $1,300 per month; and a rapid deployment level that costs $113,000 to $496,000 for five years, during which time Innovation Collective will come in and hire staff to complete the “transformation” of the city or town into an Innovation Collective community like Coeur d’Alene.

At Innovation Collective’s downtown Coeur d’Alene think space, ideas are hammered into physical incorporations.

“The Innovation Collective was founded here in 2013 with a dream to create a system that allowed for ‘normal people’ to participate in the technology revolution that is creating the current and future wealth in the world,” founder Nick Smoot said on his webpage.

The Collective’s centerpiece, a refurbished Elks Lodge Smoot calls the “Innovation Den” on the 400 block of East Lakeside Avenue, comprises several storefront businesses and a lot of space for idea sharing and brainstorming.

At the Den, Smoot plays host to free monthly gatherings where people share ideas and, as Smoot says on his website, “(Preparing) humans for the future of work. To do so, we rebuild community and then discover economic opportunity for all.”

In a North Idaho once dominated by economic generators that drew their workforce from rural communities for industries such as mining and timber, the concept of a changing workplace dependent on new ideas can be challenging to grasp.

A recent seminar at the Collective sponsored by North Idaho College expounded on the idea of impending change in North Idaho’s employment — or work — environment, which must be spurred by innovation, technology and stepping bravely away from past conventions.

“We’re seeking input about how to best prepare here in our community for future jobs with rapid changes in industry,” said Marie Price, NIC director for Workforce and Community Education.

Bolstered in part by a population growth that has surpassed most other regions nationally, the small chunk of Idaho known as the Panhandle has seen unprecedented economic growth.

Jobs generated in part by new approaches to work, and new ways of thinking have jump-started the economy.

“Coeur d’Alene has seen over 40 new startups, hundreds of new jobs, $34 million in capital deployed and a 36,000 square foot Innovation Den housing over 50 companies developed out of an abandoned Elk’s Lodge,” Smoot said of his Collective.

The Collective, Smoot said, “is an inclusive tribe of like-minded but diverse people from around the globe who work together to draw out the best in each other and pursue our dreams.”

By joining the Collective, entrepreneurs and individuals with novel ideas to spur growth, create jobs and wealth can tap into a storehouse of knowledge, contacts and models, as well as glean advice from a list of consultants to help progress their plans.

“Whether you find yourself in a small town in Idaho or a suburb of Los Angeles, we can help you get the most out of your personal and professional journey,” Smoot said on his website.

During these days of spinning growth, the world needs two things more than ever, Smoot said:

“Hope and genuine community. The Innovation Collective provides both.”

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