Organizations representing local businesses and economic development interests have made it known that the previous and existing model for promoting the greater Spokane region was not conducive to collaboration. Now efforts are being made to better include the business community and other stakeholders in how to strengthen existing businesses while also encouraging new companies to move to the region.
Greater Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Lance Beck told Lens the chamber supports a “more collaborative and transparent economic development ecosystem,” however there are still many aspects to discuss and finalize.
“If all the regional partners are at the table from the beginning, I feel we can provide a more comprehensive plan and ultimately the best opportunity for the region to be successful at landing new business,” said Beck. “What matters most is that we help a business land in the right spot for them to be successful.”
Greater Spokane Incorporated (GSI) CEO Todd Mielke told Lens that the conversations involving economic development decisions for the region have caused some organizations and municipalities to indicate that they were not brought into the discussions until later, and often felt as if they were not being considered.
The traditional model for the region was that of a cone, according to Mielke, with a select few at the top – and those at the bottom who waited for information.
“Now think of a funnel— bringing stakeholders in at the very beginning as information flows in and having a dialogue on how individuals and the community will collectively respond to those inquiries,” he said. “This is how we compete…how we as a region will put our best foot forward.”
This doesn’t involve creating a new entity, but rather creates a regional alliance that focuses on how to help existing business expand and how the community can help respond to inquiries, he added.
Mielke said that the region’s new version of its regional economic development alliance will involve the participation of organizations including: GSI, Greater Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Spokane Partnership, Visit Spokane, West Plaines Chamber of Commerce and three Public Development Authorities: University District PDA, West Plains/Airport PDA and the Northeast PDA.
Those organizations have been meeting on a monthly basis for a while and leading the dialogue on how to identify projects they can collaborate on.
“When I came on board, I would ask how you define economic development,” said Mielke. “Many said it’s about recruiting new businesses to your area. That’s not really popular to existing businesses already there to help fund those efforts.”
According to Mielke, there is a recognition that most job growth comes from existing businesses in the community, and there are unique opportunities for existing businesses to bring on another 50 or 100 employees.
“We are not just focused on recruiting businesses from out of the community,” he said. “We’ve rebuilt our strategic plan to redefine that model,” adding that the region is working to make sure existing and new business owners can find the local talent they need by increasing its credential attainment goals.
Part of that effort involves developing a one-stop website for community and regional information for businesses looking to possibly relocate.
GSI hired Spokane Marketing Executive Marty Dickinson as a consultant on the project.
“We’re trying to create a true portal into what this region is,” she told the Spokane Journal of Business. “There’s lots of different versions of that, and we’re trying to see if we can’t create a consistent one so that we are a unified message and a unified vision for anybody looking at this area.”
One challenge is figuring out how to adequately fund those efforts if Spokane County is one of six in the state without a port district, which would allow for a dedicated funding source for economic development.
Mielke said the community will be considering different available funding sources, and if it will not work, they will have to bring a hybrid version to the state legislature for consideration. He told the Spokane Journal of Business that GSI has already received $400,000 in pledges with the fundraising goal of up to $700,000 to fund the alliance.
“My hope is that everyone realizes that the windshield is always bigger than the rearview mirror; let’s focus on where we want to go versus where we’ve been,” he said.