This article first appeared on April 9, 2019 in The Coeur d’Alene Press. By staff writer Brian Walker.

COEUR d’ALENE — Jon Ness invited two relatively new Kootenai Health employees to the podium on Monday to illustrate how health care has led the local economic development charge in recent years — and given young folks an opportunity to live here.

The Kootenai Health CEO was the keynote speaker on “Our Health Industry: The Heartbeat of New Jobs” during the Coeur d’Alene Area Economic Development Corporation’s annual meeting attended by a record 409 people at The Coeur d’Alene Resort.

Sharing their job stories up front with Ness were Caiti Bobbitt, a public affairs strategist, and Kyle Guice, a security officer.

“Personally, it’s allowed me to be there for my family in ways I never imagined,” Bobbitt said of her job. “It’s also allowed me to build relationships that will last a lifetime. Professionally, it’s given me a profound sense of community that I wouldn’t have gotten back in Phoenix.”

Guice said his position allowed him to return to Coeur d’Alene, where he was raised.

“I love the outdoors and fishing,” he said. “I’ve bounced around a bit with college basketball, so this has given me the perspective of how nice it is to be back in Coeur d’Alene.”

Bobbitt and Guice represent a trend in which the health care industry has become a major player for job creation in recent years compared to when Ness arrived in 2010. Back then, Kootenai County’s unemployment rate was 12 percent.

“There was very little construction, housing sales were low, the hospital wasn’t really growing, yet we had an unbelievable community we live in,” Ness said. “Our quality scores [at the hospital] were average. That is not a formula for growth.”

But Kootenai Health, thanks to community growth and internal culture shifts, is now roaring.

The independent, community-owned hospital grew from 1,800 jobs in 2011 to 3,300 today.

“In some ways, we can’t recruit fast enough,” said Ness, adding that the company has 230 job openings.

Idaho is among 16 states in which health care is the largest employer.

Ness said the culture shift at Kootenai Health started mandatory two-hour training sessions with all employees and the crafting of a vision statement — one that saw Kootenai Health being recognized nationally for excellence.

Ness said many employees several years ago were surprised that Kootenai Health’s ratings were at the bottom, compared to other hospitals in the region.

“That got their attention,” he said. “Maybe we weren’t as good as we thought we were.”

Ness said the culture shift, which includes annual employee engagement surveys, has led to Kootenai Health being honored nationally by several organizations.

Welcome home, kids 2

Gynii Gilliam, the economic development corporation’s president, encouraged business leaders to explore ways to piggyback onto Kootenai Health’s momentum.”This is so doable; let’s get to it. Let’s help the health care sector make an even bigger impact. We can do this.”


Ness said he believes Kootenai Health, which became an affiliate of the prestigious Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic in 2014, can continue to be an economic development force for years to come. It has a great example to follow in the Mayo Clinic, which hopes to create 50,000 new jobs over the next 25 years with investments from the public and private sectors and the health care organizations.

Ness said he believes a similar scenario can occur here, especially since this is a recreation paradise, the region’s proximity to Canada, the population of the counties are comparable; and because of Rochester’s somewhat remote location and the fact that North Idaho’s winters aren’t as harsh as Minnesota’s.

“We have fantastic physical amenities, wonderful resources and this is the most hospitable community I have ever been to,” Ness said. “Health care is growing, but what if we had a vision to do something like that?”

Gynii Gilliam, the economic development corporation’s president, encouraged business leaders to explore ways to piggyback onto Kootenai Health’s momentum.

“This is so doable; let’s get to it,” she said. “Let’s help the health care sector make an even bigger impact. We can do this.”

Idaho Gov. Brad Little said Kootenai Health’s success of providing opportunities for young families is part of the transformation from the state’s traditional roots of mining, timber and agriculture.

The average age of Kootenai Health employees is 41.

Little said North Idaho’s proximity to Canada, recreation and clean air and water also opens economic development possibilities.

“We need to create an atmosphere where people want to stay in Idaho,” Little said. “Strong families are what we are in Idaho and what people look for when they come here.”

Washington State grant helps international food processor expand, add jobs in Othello

April 15, 2019

OLYMPIA, WA – The Washington Department of Commerce provided a $100,000 grant to the Adams County Development Council from Gov. Inslee’s Economic Development Strategic Reserve Fund to support the expansion of SVZ-USA Washington Inc., the only North American subsidiary of Netherlands-based specialty food processor SVZ International B.V.

The company plans to invest $4.8 million to increase capacity at its Othello facility opened in 2000, adding 17 new manufacturing jobs to its 90 existing employees.

“SVZ is an important part of the food processing cluster in Othello, and we are pleased to help Adams County Development Council partner with the company to make infrastructure improvements that will strengthen the entire community and prepare for future growth,” said Commerce Director Lisa Brown.

“We are excited to have SVZ-USA moving forward with a $4.8 million expansion project that will bring new jobs to the city of Othello and Adams County,” said Adams County Economic Development Director Stephen McFadden.

The grant will help offset the cost of sewer system improvements required by the city of Othello for the expansion.  This will also extend the new sewer line well beyond SVZ’s building, facilitating future municipal connections and growth.

SVZ-USA specializes in processing fruit and vegetable juices, concentrates and purees for food and beverage manufacturers around the world. The company is recognized globally for sustainability and agronomy management best practices.

“The company is actively involved in our community in multiple ways,” McFadden added. “SVZ employees volunteer with several community organizations, and the company plays an active role in the Othello Career Showcase where we connect students in grades 8 through 12 with local employers to introduce them to the numerous career paths that exist within their hometown.”

“Building and growing a great business requires equally great relationships.  We are very pleased with the relationship we have with The State of Washington, Adams County, and the City of Othello.  The grant funding provided facilitates our expansion, and confirms the business friendly and supportive role of government to our international leadership,” said David E. Stewart, president, SVZ-USA Washington.

“In addition to direct employment increases, as our sourcing of raw materials is predominantly local, we look forward to expanding our local sourcing as we partner with farmers for our agro supply needs, increasing by about 30 million pounds with this expansion,’ he added. “Our business success requires long-term relationships with customers, farmers, employees, and the communities in which we operate.”

This article first appeared on March 20, 2019 in The Spokesman-Review. By staff writer Amy Edelen.

Affordability, opportunities drive placement among top 100 nationally

Spokane again has made a national ranking – this time as a top place to live for its affordability, job opportunities and recreational options. The Lilac City is ranked No. 41 out of 100 cities in a list of Top 100 Best Places to Live in 2019 by Livability. com, which evaluated more than 1,000 cities based on economics, housing, amenities, education and health care.

“The cities on this year’s list represent the best of the best when it comes to affordability and opportunity,” Editor-in-Chief Winona Dimeo-Ediger said in a statement. “These 100 cities are not just fantastic places to live in terms of their amenities, education, health care and infrastructure, they are places where young people can build amazing careers and communities.”

Spokane earned high marks for its parks, lakes, museums, and music and food scenes as well as accessibility to five universities and two medical schools, which boosted the city’s education score.

Affordability and job opportunities were top answers among 1,000 millennials surveyed nationally to determine what matters most to them when deciding to relocate, according to Livability. com.

The website indicated all cities on the Top 100 Places to Live list have median home values below $250,000. The median home price in Spokane is $239,900, according to February data from the Spokane Association of Realtors.

Spokane has the most affordable housing of all large counties in state, according to the Washington Center for Real Estate Research at the University of Washington.

“Spokane is in very good position as far as affordability and sales price,” said Rob Higgins, executive officer of the Spokane Association of Realtors.

Higgins said that while housing inventory is low in Spokane, it’s expected to pick up in the next year, following a national trend of increased inventory in larger cities, such as Seattle.

Pullman and Richland ranked No. 86 and No. 30, respectively, on’s list, while Boise topped the list as the best place to live. Moscow made the list at No. 60.

Spokane has been featured on several national lists during the past year, including “Cities on the Rise” by National Geographic Traveler magazine and “Best Foodie Cities in America,” by WalletHub.

Agreement provides renewable energy intended to offset higher priced market purchases and fossil-fuel generation  

SPOKANE, Wash. – March 19, 2019: Avista, through a request for proposal issued in June 2018, has selected to purchase power generated by the proposed Rattlesnake Flat Wind project in Adams County, Washington.

Rattlesnake Flat Wind, a wind energy facility permitted and being developed by renewable energy developer Clearway Energy Group (“Clearway”), will provide Avista with approximately 50 average megawatts of renewable energy, or as much as 144 megawatts of nameplate wind capacity, under a 20-year power purchase agreement (PPA) with deliveries beginning in 2020. The PPA provides Avista with additional renewable energy, capacity and environmental attributes, which will offset higher priced market purchases. The PPA aligns with Avista’s 2017 Integrated Resource Plan which identifies that the utility will consider acquiring additional resources if such resources have lower long-term cost than electric market alternatives.  Avista expects to recover the cost of the power purchased through its retail rates.

“Recent market changes, including reductions in the cost of wind power facilities and tax incentives that remain in effect, have combined to make this an excellent time to acquire long-term output from a cost-effective wind resource, which has the added benefit of being located in our service territory,” said Jason Thackston, Senior Vice President of Energy Resources for Avista. “Rattlesnake Flat will help Avista meet its goal of providing reliable energy to our customers at a reasonable cost, while bringing even more renewable energy to our region, now and in the future.”

“We’ve been closely working with key stakeholders in Adams County, developing partnerships with landowners, businesses and local government to enable this project, and entering into this long term partnership with Avista is a very exciting next step,” said Benjamin Fairbanks, Senior Director of Wind Development at Clearway. “We’re proud that Rattlesnake Flat will be a source of home-grown renewable energy for the state of Washington and for Avista’s customers for many years to come.”

The wind farm will be the largest renewable energy facility in Adams County with the capacity to generate enough clean, renewable energy to power about 37,600 of Avista’s customers’ homes. Situated on 20,000 privately owned acres near Lind, WA, Rattlesnake Flat will tie into Avista’s electric system via Avista’s Lind/Washtucna transmission line.

SOURCE: Avista Corporation

first posted in the National Governor’s Association via Medium, March 8, 2019.

The Creative Sector: A Proven Economic Catalyst for Rural America

Rural regions contain some of our nation’s most iconic landscapes and cherished heritage, yet many of them are struggling with persistent economic obstacles. Rural America is contending with the outmigration of young and skilled workers, low levels of educational attainment, infrastructure needs (both physical and digital), rising poverty rates, barriers to health care and poor health outcomes and problems related to an evolving economy ― especially the loss of industry.

While the overall U.S. economy has rebounded from the most recent recession, rural areas have not shared equally in the gains. In spite of facing similar problems, some rural areas have prospered since the Great Recession: They experienced population growth, earnings growth, higher household incomes and the ability to attract and retain workers.

The “secret sauce” for those prospering rural areas is their ability to leverage their creative sector assets to catalyze economic and workforce development initiatives in those rural areas. An extensive body of research by economists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Endowment for the Arts has found:

When these principles are applied within a state’s existing policy framework, the steps can lift employment, wages and the quality of place in rural areas.

The action guide features numerous successful high-profile examples of states, regions and rural communities that have become more economically resilient and sustainable through creative sector initiatives. The Montana Artrepreneur Program, for example, expands entrepreneurial opportunities for rural visual artists by providing personal coaching and other business and marketing training over 10 months. Artists who received certification through the program between 2009 and 2014 experienced, on average, a 650 percent net sales increase and an 87 percent increase in out-of-state sales.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts is promoting creative entrepreneurship by providing access to “maker” equipment, such as 3D printers, through rural libraries. This is intended to help strengthen the maker culture in rural areas and expand the libraries’ roles as anchor organizations for economic development. The libraries are supported by community action teams who are reaching out to residents and offering training.

States can similarly encourage rural community colleges to serve as anchors for creativity-based economic growth. Sheridan, a city in rural northern Wyoming, has been beefing up its creative economic development for more than a decade. It started by collaborating with the Northern Wyoming Community College District to commission a cultural sector inventory and form a local Creative Economies Council. The Wyoming Arts Council funded the community college district’s theater and dance program organizations, which gradually became prominent parts of the local asset portfolio. The state also contributed to funding the redevelopment of a Performing Arts and Education Center affiliated with the local college ― all to the benefit of the surrounding rural region.

Every state has rural areas, including some that we don’t normally think about as being rural, such as New York and Maryland. In New York, interagency coordination has been the key to providing grants focusing on workforce development incorporating the arts. The state’s Regional Economic Councils (REDCs), through the New York State Council on the Arts, are providing $5 million to support projects using the arts to foster workforce readiness and development. Local organizations can apply to develop career-training programs in artistic fields, including internships and apprenticeships in collaboration with high schools, community colleges and four-year colleges. Also, grants for large capital improvement projects through the Arts and Culture Facilities Improvement Grant Program are similarly being offered through the REDCs. The projects are intended to promote accessibility, stability and sustainability of cultural arts facilities and strengthen tourism and business development statewide ― “including in rural communities where such investments can be particularly impactful.” In 2018, the program awarded $20 million for capital improvement projects, and another $10 million is planned in 2019.

Further, some states have designated or certified creative districts that support workforce development. For example, in 2016, Maryland’s 24 state-designated Arts and Entertainment Districts supported more than 8,500 jobs, which collectively yielded $267 million in wages, $63.2 million in local and state tax revenue and almost $856 million in state economic output. Today, Maryland has 26 such districts.

The Next Generation Initiative headquartered in rural Iowa is a collaboration between the Art of the Rural and the Rural Policy Research Institute at the University of Iowa to strengthen connections among the arts, public policy and community and economic development. The Initiative’s web-based Digital Learning Commons and Exchange features how-to material on rural “creative placemaking” which occurs when arts organizations and community development practitioners deliberately integrate the arts and culture into community revitalization work and engage partners from a range of sectors, such as agriculture and food, and policy areas such as economic development, community development, housing and workforce development.

NGA’s forthcoming action guide, Rural Prosperity through the Arts and Creative Sector: A Rural Action Guide for Governors and States, outlines principles, process steps and further examples that constitute an overall Systems Change Framework for rural America based on the creative sector. The Systems Change Framework is organized according to five key roles for governors and states: providing leadership; capitalizing on cultural assets; building the state’s infrastructure for creative partnerships with other policy areas; developing local talent with creative skills and creating an environment friendly to investment and innovation. The guide will be released March 12, 2019. Follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #ruralarts.