The new organization being formed through the merger of the Spokane chamber and economic-development council here is starting to come into focus, and whats clear already is that it will be bigger than its two predecessors.
Since mid-November, an interim board for a combined Spokane Regional Chamber of Commerce and Spokane Area Economic Development Council has been meeting to hammer out details of the new, consolidated organization, which will launch officially on Jan. 31.
Though the new entitys name wont be revealed publicly until then, much information about its structure and goals already is emerging, including that it will have a larger budget and staff than the combined budgets and staffs of the EDC and chamber now, and also will offer new and expanded initiatives.
Im being asked in the community, How is the organization going to leverage both public and private investment? says Heidi Stanley, the chambers chairwoman and vice chairwoman and COO of Sterling Savings Bank. I tell them thats what this is all about. Thats why were doing this. This is about creating synergies between these two organizations. This is about creating more.
Heres a glimpse of the new organization.
It will be led by Rich Hadley, the chambers president and CEO for the past 13 years. The EDCs top executive, Jon Eliassen, had agreed to lead that organization for an interim period, and now has retired.
It will have roughly 30 employees, about five more than the current combined staffs of the chamber, at 15, and the EDC, at 10. Both organizations have left some staff positions vacant during the past year in anticipation of the planned merger, so their overall work force is down from past years.
Five of the new agencys employees will be vice presidentsfor economic development, public policy, work-force development, business resources, and marketing and communicationsand all five of those positions are being recruited now. Hadley says some of those jobs could be filled by the end of the month.
It is expected to have an annual budget of nearly $4 million, which would be about $600,000 more than the combined current budgets of the chamber and EDC. It hopes within the next three years to boost that budget to $5 million.
Its new board, which is being selected this month, will have 45 members, including 15 who will serve on the organizations executive committee. Some, but not all, of those directors likely will come from the boards of the two current groups.
Organizers say they began two months ago asking the current member-investors of the chamber and EDC to continue their membership in the new organization, and to commit to a higher level of investment. Many of those investors contribute to both groups now, and they are being asked to add together what theyre paying to each group, plus add more, when they commit to supporting the new organization.
So far, says Hadley, the response to that request has been good.
Of the first 60 investors approached, about 45 said theyll invest in the new organization at a higher level than they do for the two current entities, he says. If that response is any indication, we should come pretty close to hitting our (budget goal) for this year, Hadley says.
One reason for that is there has been strong buy-in by business leaders here to the idea of the merger, says Scott Morris, Avista Corp. president and an executive committee member of both the EDC and chamber.
The kind of board we are going to have will say a lot about the response were getting to this (merger), Morris says. They (new board members) are 100 percent excited about this opportunity.
EDC Chairman Tom Fritz, who also is CEO of Inland Northwest Health Services here, says one of the big thrusts of the new organization will be an industry-call program that will reach out to some 400 employers here in key industry clusters, in part to determine what factors enable those companies to bring money into the community.
The new organization plans to spend some of the anticipated $600,000 in new budget money on sophisticated software that will help it organize, track, and quantify those factors, both to help it shape programs to boost business growth here and to report on the communitys progress.
Says Morris, It puts more clarity into the whole recruit, expand, and retain objective.
Among the other new or expanded initiatives planned for the new group are:
Creating work-force panels in industry clusters hereincluding manufacturing, aerospace, logistics, health care, and technologyto assess labor needs and training programs.
Establishing a talent retention and recruitment program to, as Fritz says, stop the leakage of talented people from the community.
Restoring staffing for local public policy. The chamber has left open that position for about a year.
Launching a springboard-type program to help non-technology startups. ConnectNorthwest another nonprofit here, already has such a program aimed at technology companies.
Expanding communications efforts by creating newsletters, public policy alerts, and other mediums aimed at specific industry clusters, and by working with the Spokane Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau and others to get publicity for the Inland Northwest outside the region.
Of the $600,000 in proposed new funding, about $80,000 of it would be spent on the industry-call program software, $260,000 on public policy, $160,000 on business resources, $55,000 on work-force development, and $45,000 on marketing and branding the new organization.
Though efforts to merge the chamber and EDC have been intense only for the past year, the idea has been simmering for about three years, organizers say.
The process, says Morris, started informally, with a desire by members of both boardsand also by Hadley and Eliassento collaborate, something people close to the organizations have said wasnt always the case in the past.
The two boards were searching for ways to do business better, and the two agency directors showed great leadership in working together, Morris says.
The two boards started holding joint retreats and meetings, began sharing resources and staff, and eventually did their long-range strategic planning together. Last summer a team from both organizations flew to Milwaukee and Lexington, Ky., to study how other communities have aligned their chamber and economic-development functions.
Says Stanley, It has evolved. This is something we couldnt have done two years ago or five years ago or 10 years ago.
Stanley says competition among communities is heightening, and business leaders here understand that if the Spokane area hopes to be competitive in attracting investment and jobs, it must act quickly to boost the efforts that the chamber and EDC are making now.
We have to do something differenttake it to the next level, she says.
Other regions, when you look at the data, are outperforming us in terms of jobs and investment. We cannot allow that to happen, Stanley says. We have to ask ourselves what happened while we were all expounding about our wonderfulness.
She says shes hearing from chamber and EDC members that now is the time to merge.
Contact Paul Read at (509) 344-1262 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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