This article first appeared in The Inlander on December16, 2021.

During the pandemic, while some out-of-the-way outdoor recreation areas saw visitation plummet (such as Denali National Park in Alaska), many other parks saw an influx of new and returning visitors anxious to get out of the house.

Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area in northeastern Washington, for example, got 160,585 more visitors than in 2019, with a near record 1.5 million total visitors in 2020, according to parks data that goes back to the 1940s.

With campsites and trails in the area also proving popular, Pend Oreille, Ferry and Stevens counties got a taste of how tourism can benefit surrounding towns.

“We have hundreds of lakes and huge waterways, and we know that those activities are well used,” says Shelly Stevens, who runs regional marketing for the Tri County Economic Development District, which covers all three counties. “One of the results of the pandemic has been this huge influx of people that maybe weren’t outdoor enthusiasts prior.”

However, not every community has been able to manage the flow. Moab, Utah, once a uranium mining community, successfully rebranded in recent decades as a massively popular outdoor destination for hiking and biking. But with nearby Arches National Park so popular that it’s full all the time, vacation rentals driving up the cost of living, and illegal camping and dumping of human waste in the area causing issues, NPR reported this summer that the city is now trying to pump the brakes on tourism.

Luckily, there are ways to plan ahead and design destinations that are welcoming to visitors while limiting their impact. From offering free shuttles to avoid overflow parking on busy roads to designing trail systems that provide great views while discouraging people from trekking through wilderness areas, many communities have designed creative workarounds for the problems that can arise.

Now, Stevens, Ferry and Pend Oreille will start planning for the future in hopes of avoiding the pitfalls other regions have seen, as the first region in the state to receive a rural tourism support grant from the nonprofit Washington Tourism Alliance.

“The timing of this project is great because we want to get ahead of that increase in tourism to the area,” Stevens says, “so that we don’t turn into a Moab or Jackson Hole or something where all of a sudden the locals can’t afford to live here.”

When Washington became the only state in the country to close its tourism office in 2011 (amid ongoing budget concerns following the recession), the Washington Tourism Alliance stepped in to maintain some of the efforts to attract people to the state. After the state reopened the office a few years ago, the alliance became a contractor for the state, continuing its work to encourage visitors while making sure impacts are managed responsibly.

“We want to not only provide marketing for the state, but also try to build infrastructure and create tourism ecosystems that are not only great for visitors, but also for residents,” says Mike Moe, director of tourism development and strategic partnership for the alliance. “We hired a consultant who helped Oregon put their program together and we’re very excited to pilot this in northeast Washington. We have so many amazing assets up there.”

The three heavily forested counties are sparsely populated: There are only seven people per square mile, and it’s hard to throw a rock and not hit a piece of land owned by a public government agency or tribal government. Stevens County is 62 percent privately owned, Pend Oreille County is 34 percent privately owned, and Ferry County is just 18 percent privately owned, according to GIS data from the Tri County Economic Development District.

“Outdoor recreation is an asset that’s, for the most part, sitting there and is available,” Stevens says. “One of the exciting things about this program is that it’s very much based on public outreach and participation, and people coming to the table and helping decide what they want tourism to look like in a decade.”

Consultant Kristin Dahl, who runs private company Crosscurrent Collective, formerly worked for Travel Oregon, where she created a process for developing tourist destinations and addressing issues in areas that are already visited regularly.

“The Oregon tourism folks have it figured out,” Stevens says. “They have done a fabulous job especially with outdoor rec and mountain biking.”

For example, when communities along the Columbia River Gorge went through the process, they were able to create car-free travel itineraries, launch an express shuttle for visitors, open a new trail segment and park, and more.

Dahl says other communities that went through a similar process developed things like food tours, expanded trail systems, or maps of local points of interest.

“It runs the gamut,” Dahl says. “Sometimes what our communities will do is also look at their heritage, whether that’s Indigenous or industrial heritage, and look at a way to bring that history to the forefront.”

Through a series of workshops, Dahl asks communities what they want to look like in 10 years, with a “steering committee” of local leaders picking the starting points for those conversations.

The public workshops in northeastern Washington could start in March. The region has already established its committee with representatives from the Kalispel Tribe of Indians, Spokane Indian Tribe and Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, as well as regional business leaders and recreation-oriented experts. As the process wraps up, that group is meant to be the backbone that ensures projects actually come to fruition, Dahl says.

Through the process, community members will also be asked to address any tensions around tourism that already exist or that may come up in the future.

“You can’t stop the flow, unfortunately, but you can manage it and use tools to up-play or downplay when you want visitors to come,” Dahl says. “How do you continue to develop visitation in places that aren’t seeing as much so you can kind of spread the love?”

Stevens says it will be great to get the process going and to continue building the relationships that have already started to take shape in recent years in the region.

“We want to be thoughtful about the growth and what that’s going to look like,” Stevens says. “The most important thing to remember is to make improvements for the people that are already here, and enhance their quality of life, and by virtue of that others will enjoy it, too.” ♦

By Paula Jensen

My husband is a mechanic. The tools of his trade are important to his work. He has a large toolbox with many drawers lined in soft black padding. His tools lay clean and organized inside each drawer for easy access when he needs the right tool for a job. Yet, when things get busy tools don’t get wiped clean, and they don’t get put back into that organized toolbox. This is when frustration levels rise, every job gets harder, and jobs take longer because he’s looking everywhere for the right tool.

Like a mechanic needs easy access to the right tools, our local community economic development (CED) organizations need easy access to the right tools — like public policy. In most rural communities, the development organization is the one group responding to the local needs that neither the market economy nor government is fully satisfying. These development organizations are working mostly alone to create solutions for housing, daycare, business retention and expansion, workforce issues, leadership development, and other quality of life issues. One organization cannot effectively tackle all these local issues alone. If the role of public policy is not in place to support development, then local frustration levels rise, every project gets harder to do, and progress takes longer because development leaders can’t grab the right tool from the toolbox.

Nine components of community and economic development

I was community coaching in a small town recently with twelve local leaders. This group represented city council members, county commissioners, and the economic development board of directors. We were mapping out their community and economic development model.

This model included the components of:

  1. business attraction
  2. existing business
  3. entrepreneurship
  4. workforce/education
  5. infrastructure
  6. quality of life
  7. leadership development
  8. storytelling/branding
  9. role of public policy

As each person was journaling their lists of activities in the nine areas, the mayor asked me for an example under the column labeled, “Role of Public Policy”. To prompt his brainstorming, I asked, “To support community economic development, have you hired a code enforcement officer or implemented the Municipal Gross Receipts Tax?”

As we worked together that evening, the group named two activities under the role of public policy – 1) Implementing Zoning and 2) Code Enforcement. Those are both good supporting public policies. Yet, as I looked over their collective work, it concerned me that a room with many elected officials could only name two public policies to support development. In that moment the story I told myself was, elected officials don’t know their role in public policy when it comes to supporting development.

So, what’s missing that could help elected officials connect the dots between the role of public policy and community economic development?

Goals of community development

A first step toward connecting those dots may be to define and understand development in your community. In addition to the nine components of the development model I listed above, below are a few general goals of any typical development organization:

Goal 1. Building Greater Community Capacity and Quality of Life

Goal 2. Nurturing Pride, Self-Reliance, and Leadership

Goal 3. Enhancing Skills and Attracting a Quality Workforce

Goal 4. Developing Businesses that are Responsive to Social and Economic Needs

Goal 5. Fostering Balanced, Fair, and Sustainable Economic Development

Example public policies to support community economic development

A next step is to explore public policies other communities are implementing to achieve their goals. Some examples of existing policies include:

  1. Investing in workforce attraction/retention incentives
  2. Prioritizing financial investments for paid staff of local housing, chamber, and economic development organizations, along with joint agreements on desired impacts
  3. Implementing a city sales tax, Municipal Gross Receipts Tax or lodging tax
  4. Implementing discretionary tax formulas to support housing improvements and business development
  5. Implementing local Main Street beautification and façade programs
  6. Creating an ecosystem of supporting local business to increase local sales tax
  7. Investing in quality-of-life and recreational amenities
  8. Utilizing Tax Increment Financing
  9. Prioritizing Planning & Zoning
  10. Owning or supplementing local daycare facilities.

 

Together, elected officials and economic development leaders can connect the dots between the role of public policy and community economic development by visioning for the future, naming the local needs, setting some goals, and innovatively developing public policy as a tool to create a thriving rural community.

Request for Proposals 

Inland Northwest Partners/Inland Northwest Economic Alliance

Executive Director

October 2021

The Inland Northwest Partners (INP), a regional non-profit economic development organization, is seeking proposals for an executive director. The successful applicant will be under contract via a Professional Services Agreement.

 

About the INP:

The INP is committed to the purpose of fostering a strong economic base in communities throughout the Inland Northwest region. It promotes regional cooperation by facilitating educational meetings, programs, and seminars to highlight new community and economic development strategies while providing members with a forum to network, share ideas and collaborate on solutions.

INP membership is comprised of over 300 business and community leaders from throughout Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho. Financial support from regional businesses, local and state governments provides the necessary funding to fund organizational operations. INP quarterly meetings take place throughout Inland Northwest communities and focus on such topics as workforce development, tourism, economic development through the arts, regional partnerships, small business development, and much more. (Throughout 2020 and the first half of 2021, meetings were moved to a webinar format to accommodate the safety protocols associated with COVID-19).

The INP also provides management and financial oversight of the Inland Northwest Economic Alliance (INEA), a regional partnership of Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho economic development organizations focused on promoting quality economic growth in the region through collaboration, education, and joint marketing activities.

 

Proposal Details:

The INP Board will entertain proposals for the services immediately through November 15, 2021.

The position scope of work and additional RFP details can be found on the INP website at: https://inwp.org/inpexecutivedirectorproposalpackage/ or email: [email protected] or call/text (509) 592-7801.

This article first appeared on advantagespokane.com on October 11, 2021.

As the economy shakes out, new and growing businesses are deciding where to locate post-pandemic. For most, the availability of skilled, trained and ready-to-work employees is a priority — if not the No. 1 criteria.

“This is going to come down to talent,” says Gary Ballew, GSI’s vice president for economic development. “We already see a scarcity of workers across the country. The ability for companies to be successful is the ability of the community to grow, attract and retain talent.”

Reliable, relevant data helps focus the search — so you know whether a community has the talent pipeline your company needs. In Spokane County, the numbers have been good and steadily getting better:

  • High school graduations. At 86.02% in 2019-’20, Spokane County’s high school graduation rate has been rising steadily for the past decade. It’s remained consistently higher than the statewide rate (83.91% in 2019-’20).
  • College attendance. In 2019, 71.2% of Spokane County residents 25 and older had attended college. That total percentage includes 40.2% of residents who had attended some college, on their way to earning a degree, or earned an associate’s degree. (That rate was higher than the state and U.S. averages.) That total percentage also includes 19.5% of residents who had bachelor’s degrees, and another 11.5% with graduate or professional degrees.
  • Civilian labor force participation. Spokane County offers the largest labor market in eastern Washington and northern Idaho. At 61.89% in 2019, the percentage of  Spokane County’s total civilian labor force — the number of employed people plus the those actively seeking work — had been rising steadily since 2015.

Advantage Spokane’s regional Data Center is packed with searchable information about talent, the business climate, infrastructure and utilities, transportation and other factors key to decision-making.

Key data curated for businesses is also easy to find on a free interactive web tool called the Vitals (the source of the talent-related data above). It’s a tool built for businesses throughout Washington and those looking to locate in the state. The Vitals bring together more than 30 key economic indicators in Washington counties or MSAs, and at the state level. The indicators reflect regions’ progress related to economic recovery, talent, business environment, infrastructure and connectivity, entrepreneurship and innovation, and place and community.

The tool makes is part of Washington in the Making, a framework for the state’s post-pandemic economic recovery created by the AWB Institute.

Commitment to education

In Spokane County, the strong numbers related to talent reflect a regional, long-term commitment to developing a talent pipeline that matches employers’ needs.

It starts with education.
The Spokane region is home to public and private colleges and universities attended by nearly 80,000 students. The county’s 14 school districts and 60 private schools provide charter programs, STEM academies, skills centers and bilingual programs in addition to high-quality K-12 education.

The region also supports training programs that ensure that the engaged, ready-to-work people in our labor force learn the skills and grow the talents that new and growing businesses need.

High quality of life

But Ballew notes that it’s just as important to be able to attract and keep skilled and talented people around, in addition to supporting quality education and training programs.

Ballew said he’s seen quality-of-life issues become more important for employers and workers, starting even before the pandemic. But now, many have experienced a shift in perspective; they’ve looking for qualities like shorter commutes and easy access to lakes, rivers, forests and mountains.

“COVID accelerated a lot of shifts,” Ballew says, “and that was one of them.”

And that important change is another good reason to consider the good life in Spokane.

This article first appeared in GeekWire on September 18 2021. Article by

The biotech and healthtech community in Eastern Washington has a loyal base of startups that laud their local connections and the support of a tight-knit group of entrepreneurs.

That’s a message echoed by several of the region’s CEOs and founders recently at the East West Life Science Summit, a meeting sponsored by industry group Life Science Washington.

“We have long-standing relationships and community built in this region that allows innovators to advance ideas and network and connect in a way that you just don’t get in more urbanized areas,” said Georgina Lynch, co-founder of Appiture Biotechnologies, which is developing ways to diagnose autism by measuring light reflexes in the eye. She is also an assistant professor at Washington State University Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine in Spokane.

Appiture is one of several startups in the region fostered by WSU’s tech transfer office — though not all WSU spinouts stay.

Well before its public offering last year, WSU neurosciences spinout Athira Pharma made the move to the Seattle area, as has Cancer Targeted Technology, which is developing diagnostics and therapeutics for prostate cancer and has a licensing deal with pharma giant Novartis.

But companies that stay are rewarded with a lower cost of living for their workers and a stable employee base in a region with a less hectic pace of living than larger cities, said Shade Needham at the meeting.

“Once somebody finds the right position they don’t leave, and so there’s very low turnover,” said Needham, who owns Alturas Analytics, a contract research organization that performs chemical analyses for drug companies. The company is located in Moscow, Idaho, adjacent to the Washington border.

Parrots CEO David Hojah, left, poses with a man using an AI-enhanced assistive parrot device, perched on wheelchair at right, to assist with vision. (Parrots photo)

Proximity to Seattle and the region’s recreational options are also luring an increasing number of tech companies to Spokane, such as Seattle-based pet company Rover, which has an outpost in the city.

Tech activity bolsters the larger startup ecosystem in the Spokane region, an area of about 500,000 people. Startups can tap into institutions such as Greater Spokane Incorporated, a business development organization, Startup Spokane, and the Health Sciences and Services Authority of Spokane County, a Washington state-funded group that issues grants to the life and health sciences research industry.

Last December, WSU launched a Spokane-based incubator for early stage life sciences companies. Spinout Space in Spokane (sp³nw) provides lab and office space for startups including H Source, a marketplace for hospitals to buy and sell medical products from each other, and clinical genetic testing company Allele Diagnostics.

Startups have also been buoyed by early stage funders in the region such as entrepreneur Tom Simpson, who sold his e-commerce company Etailz for $75 million in 2016. He has backed dozens of Spokane-area startups as CEO of Ignite Funds and president of the Spokane Angel Alliance.

Spokane entrepreneur and angel investor Tom Simpson. (Ignite Northwest Photo)

Since 1921, Spokane has been home to a company now called Jubilant HollisterStier that is manufacturing components for COVID-19 vaccines. The contract research organization is a subsidiary of global company Jubilant Pharma.

Eastern Washington has the talent pool and early-stage funding opportunities to support more life sciences growth, said meeting attendees.

“You can get very well connected here very quickly,” said Parrots CEO and founder David Hojah. Hojah received funding from Simpson and other backers to launch his eight-employee startup developing assistive technologies for people with multiple sclerosis and other conditions. Parrots also recently won second place at a Novartis-sponsored competition for its tech device to support vision, which looks like a parrot.

Hojah previously lived in Boston and recently moved to Spokane from Seattle. So far, his impression is positive: “It’s the connection, the people, the vibes and the energy.”

Several other Spokane-area companies were highlighted by speakers at the summit.

  • Swabbing a dog for a genetic test. (Paw Prints Photo)

    Paw Print Genetics services dog breeders and veterinarians with nearly 300 genetic tests for over 350 different dog breeds. Founder and CEO Lisa Shaffer received an undergraduate degree from WSU and returned years later as a genetics professor. She co-founded Signature Genomic Laboratories, a Spokane-based genetic testing company for children with developmental disabilities that sold for $90 million in 2010. Paw Print, founded in 2012, had 40 employees in 2020 and was growing.

  • Medcurity makes it easier for healthcare organizations to comply with federal privacy and security laws through an online series of queries resembling Turbotax. Last summer the startup raised $500,000 from Seattle’s SeaChange fund, on the heels of $737,00 from Washington Research Foundation.
  • Photon Biosciences leverages its technology for ultra-sensitive imaging of biological materials and is developing an at-home test for contamination of blood platelet donations. The WSU spinout has landed grants from the U.S. National Institutes of Health totaling $415,000, matched locally by the Health Sciences and Services Authority of Spokane. CEO Chandima Bandaranayaka previously rose from research intern to business development manager at VMRD, a 40-year-old Pullman-based diagnostics company.
  • S2 Media manufactures and sells materials for culturing microbes. In 2019 the company secured $750,000 in funding from “local investors” to expand production in its 5,000-square-foot operation. The company was founded in 2015 by microbiologist Stephanie Bernards, who has a master’s degree from Eastern Washington University and is a former quality assurance manager at Jubilant HollisterStier.
  • Crimson Medical Solutions is led by co-founder Stephen Bone, who graduated from WSU in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in bioengineering. Crimson is making an organization system for IV lines to reduce medical errors. The three-employee, three-intern company has received grant funding from Greater Spokane Incorporated.

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