Greater Spokane Incorporated has submitted to its board a strategic plan for implementing changes designed to help improve the Spokane area’s business climate.
The recommended course of action stems from a $60,000, three-part study called Driving Competitive Change, which GSI commissioned last summer with the goal of pinpointing areas of improvement.
Robin Toth, GSI’s vice president of business development says the strategic plan will focus on foundational and key target economic development strategies that work toward the goals of an improved infrastructure, business climate, workforce readiness, and educational attainment.
To continue improving the area’s infrastructure, Toth says GSI’s plan has laid out deadlines for creating and financing a port district. In the area of business climate, she says the organization will continue work through the government and regulatory affairs process, educating local, regional and state legislators on what is needed to increase employer competitiveness. She says the final focus of the plan highlights workforce readiness and educational attainment, with ideas for creating a workforce of educated citizens with competitive qualities that should help attract companies to the area.
These goals for the strategic plan were drawn from areas the competitiveness study indicated the Spokane area is lacking, including business climate, real estate and incentives.
Conducted by TadZo, a Yakima-based economic development and site selection consulting firm, the study graded Spokane on 10 key competitiveness factors, as well as providing insights aimed at helping area leaders to grow the area’s economy. The study included a Greater Spokane Region Competitiveness Report Card, in which consultants gave the Spokane area three As, four Bs, a C and two Ds in 10 categories.
The Spokane area was ranked high in human capital, sustainability, and permitting and regulatory environment. While it also ranked above average in transportation, utilities and infrastructure, location, and entrepreneurship and innovation resources, the area had only a middling grade in business climate, and ranked poorly in real estate and incentives.
Following the study, GSI created an economic development advisory group, led by Wells Fargo Bank executive Ted Lane, to begin working to formulate recommendations to address the area’s shortcomings as highlighted by the study, and to improve its overall competitiveness.
The group was to present its recommendations to the GSI board in time for them to be incorporated into GSI’s strategic planning effort for its 2016 fiscal year, beginning Oct. 1.
Toth says recommendations were delayed to give GSI time to work through a change in its leadership, with Todd Mielke becoming its new CEO on Feb. 1. The report had been released while Mielke’s predecessor, Steve Stevens, still headed the organization.
“The committee wanted to allow Todd time to review the report, and make any added suggestions before recommendations were submitted,” says Toth.
She says that earlier this month, Mielke, in collaboration with GSI’s management team, developed a strategic plan for implementing competitiveness improvement-related recommendations and presented it to an executive committee for approval. The plan now goes before the organization’s full executive board for its review and approval in August.
Toth says once the plan is approved, it will enable GSI leadership and its associated partners such as the economic development advisory group, the Government and Regulatory Affairs Council, and the workforce and education committees to more easily work toward implementing the recommendations.
According to Toth, the study’s recommendations can be categorized into three general groupings—those for GSI, those for regional economic development partners, and those for advocacy to the state.
Among GSI’s recommended areas for improvement were target definition, industry intelligence, strengthening proof points, marketing tools, competitor tracking, and incentive analysis. Toth says that prior to the study’s results, GSI had already begun making improvements in some of those areas, and has started work to improve others.
She says in the past two years, GSI has completed several target industry studies, including one in aerospace and several in health sciences, some of which also included supply chain data. GSI has also targeted Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer grant recipients going back to 2012.
As part of its efforts to build industry intelligence, Toth says GSI has increased its access to databases and subscriptions used to develop detailed marketing and proposals specific to various industries.
Toth says GSI has access to local labor surveys through its partnerships with the Employment Security Department and the Workforce Development Council, both of which provide information on a monthly basis.
GSI also regularly interviews local manufacturers and service providers, as well as coordinating data with local educators and the Workforce Development Council, she says.
“GSI has a workforce and education department that is very embedded with the educational pipelines and we leverage their knowledge.”
Toth says last year GSI also launched a new economic development website, Advantage Spokane.com. It is now working to increase traffic to the site through search engine optimization, and has invested in new online tools that allow for comparison of the Spokane area to its competitors across the U.S.
“This enables a side-by-side comparison to those regions that we are generally competing against,” she says. “We recently compared Spokane to five other regions for a site selector who is helping a company analyze the best place for them to site their business.”
In the area of product readiness and incentives, Toth says GSI’s Port District Steering Committee continues in its efforts to launch a port district education campaign, with a strategic business plan detailing the next steps, soon to be presented to the board.
“The port district is the key infrastructure tool that Spokane can use for the development of a signature industry or business park or speculative buildings,” she says.
Additionally, the city of Spokane has announced a number of targeted investment areas that include local incentives for certain sizes and types of projects.
Toth says as part of improving transportation, the 2015 state Legislature funded fully the North Spokane Corridor project.
In areas where the Spokane region was lacking, specifically business climate and incentives, she says work may be progressing a bit more slowly.
“Our government-and-regulatory affairs team is creating a state agenda, along with our policy stakeholders, which will incorporate requests for new tools that are being implemented across the state to be broadened to include Spokane County and also requests to revert the community empowerment zone incentive to countywide,” she says. “We also continue to advocate for reinstatement of tax incentives that have been dropped or minimized.”
She says GSI and its member partners also are looking at existing certified site programs within the region, to determine an implementation within Spokane County.
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