Katherine Morgan, new president and CEO of the Greater Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce, has only just begun to reach out about her vision for the community. The Journal sat down with Katherine at the chamber’s headquarters, in the Liberty Square Building at 1421 N. Meadowwood Lane in Liberty Lake, to talk about her direction for the organization.
Journal: Tell me about your professional and educational background.
Katherine Morgan: I received my undergraduate degree from Gonzaga University, and it was in business administration with a focus in marketing. I completed my master’s (in business administration) this past year, from Gonzaga University as well. I spent most of my career, since 2006, in the building industry. So, that included working for the homebuilders association of Spokane as well as a chapter, following that, in the greater Kansas City area.
My focus was primarily in marketing and event planning, and that really went in the realm of understanding that events aren’t merely for the sake of having an enjoyable experience; they are a new wave, a new opportunity, and platform for cultivating great marketing opportunities for companies and for individuals.
When did you start your current position, and how did you come to it?
KM: My first day was Sept. 15, and I was previously working for All Saints Catholic School (of Spokane), in their marketing and development department. I was teaching marketing at Eastern Washington University at the time as well. I wasn’t seeking this opportunity. I was asked by a board member to consider throwing my resume into the mix. The individuals who were encouraging me to apply had worked with me over the last few years in the homebuilders world and in other professional experiences here in Spokane, and they really felt that I had a lot of qualities and passion and a love for this community that would lend myself well as a candidate for this position.
I saw in a photo caption that quoted a chamber board member as saying that you were the only candidate for the position who had a “bundle” of passion for Spokane Valley. Are you from here originally?
KM: I would definitely hail the Northwest as home. I was born in Los Angeles, but we moved here when I was about 9 years old, and ever since then, this is the only home I really know. I was really fortunate when I was working at the SHBA, the Spokane Home Builders Association, I was recruited to join the Kansas City Home Builders Association to help them with their struggling shows. I was excited to go out there and do that, and I did it for a year and I had a lot of fun and grew my skills, and grew some great relationships with great individuals, but I missed home.
What are some of the challenges that you see for yourself in this position?
KM: The greatest challenge is my lack of knowledge and experience in the chamber world here in Spokane Valley. But, that’s overcome very quickly by great individuals who are investing their time and lending their guidance to make sure that I’m informed. And, that I’m keeping the community informed and creating a platform that is transparent and inclusive to bring this chamber to a relevancy that will support the business community and the community at large for many years to come.
You mention your lack of experience with chambers. Do you find that people have been accepting of you in this position?
KM: Absolutely. They’ve been very accepting because they recognize I’m willing to listen, I’m a quick learner, and I’m not afraid to go to those who have the right answers. Many in the community are familiar with my work through the Spokane Home Builders Association, and from there they understood I wanted to build something that was authentic, and push something forward that was a lot bigger than me.
What are some of the challenges facing the chamber itself? What is its financial state at this time?
KM: You know, we’ve had some challenges in the past but this year we’re really enthused. The board of directors have come together and have worked really hard with this staff here to bring us to a stronger position than we have been in the last decade. So financially, we’re in good shape. We still have a lot of room to grow and that is our opportunity to take. But we’re stronger than we have been in a long time.
What is your plan to achieve that growth?
KM: You know it’s interesting; there are several ways to financially support an organization like ours. There’s dues revenue and non-dues revenue. I think a lot of people could see it as, “Well, just try to go out there and quickly get more membership.” I’m taking a different approach. I want to make sure that we have a true-value proposition to offer. I want to make sure this organization is very clear about what it can offer to support existing and prospective members. I want to build something that people will understand exactly what they’re getting into. I think we’ve tried to be a chamber that’s a chamber to all people, and that’s difficult to do, especially for a staff our size (the chamber has four employees), for a community our size.
Are you considering moving the chamber to a more high-profile location?
KM: That’s a great question. Three years ago, the chamber was looking for a new location, and there were a lot of motivating factors that came into play. They wanted to put themselves in stronger financial footing. They also recognized that they didn’t need the amount of space that they had. They were fortunate to find a great home in Liberty Lake thanks to the support of Greenstone (Corp.). The reality is, at the time, the chamber acknowledged that most members don’t find themselves walking into our office every day. We’re engaging with them. We’re out in the community, hosting events at other locations. That being said, would we like to be somewhere different down the road? There are definitely a lot of individuals who would say yes.
How many members do you have at this time? Is that number where you want it to be?
KM: We have, as of today, 551. The numbers vary depending on how you count, but there are 6,000 to 7,000 businesses in the greater Spokane Valley area. I’ll know more about how many we are aiming to get in a year as we continue to grow. I just want to make sure as we grow, we’re continuing to serve our members and exceeding their expectations. We have a lot to offer, so there are certainly many industries that would be well-served by being active members of our organization. It’s our job and our opportunity to communicate that.
What is the Chamber’s current relationship with Greater Spokane Incorporated and do you see it changing in the future?
KM: You know, I’ve only been here a month, and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Steve Stevens (CEO of Greater Spokane Incorporated) on a couple of occasions. We’re looking forward to meeting with him more formally in the coming weeks. What I can say is this: We are in a unique time for our region, and there’s a lot of growth potential and a lot of growth occurring today. The opportunity to have two new leaders in truly critical roles in our community only lends itself as an opportunity to be a unified force on pretty significant topics, to make a difference on a regional and state level.
You mention that this is a time of growth for the area. What will the chamber’s role in that be?
KM: That’s something we’re identifying right now. The city of Spokane Valley has been very supportive and understanding of our role in that regard. We are the unifying force dedicated to community vitality and economic prosperity. So that means having our active committees on government action, transportation, business education, and, keeping this community informed. Communicating that to those who are interested in participating in this community is really how we’re going to see that growth continue. The partnerships with our elected officials and city council, and other members of the community, are how we’re going to do it.
What is your overall vision for the chamber’s future?
KM: That’s a great question, because I came into this position without a personal vision, with no personal agenda, except to serve. I think anyone in this position shouldn’t necessarily have their own vision, but should make sure it’s the vision of the community. I spent the last 40 days out speaking with the community, understanding what their needs are, what they would like to see. So my vision is one of transparency, inclusivity, and building a platform that is community-driven. Also, that the leadership on our board of directors is representative of different industries and different perspectives. And, also, always keeping in mind that the service of the membership, the business community, is not exclusively to for-profit businesses, but inclusive of not-for-profits, schools, churches, other organizations. If we build a platform where they can communicate, and be that unifying force, that unifying voice, we can make a huge difference.
How do you plan to accomplish this vision?
KM: By starting with going out into the community, I’ve spent every single day listening. I’m not coming into this role with any presuppositions that I have all the answers. The board of directors, the executive team, and myself have spent a lot of time out there meeting with industries. We met with the auto industry; we met with some of the financial industry; and some in hospitality. We’re going to continue to push forth and find out what the needs are, so we can gather ideas. There is no bad idea that’s laid before us. But as we gather these ideas, we want to identify measurable goals that will push this community forward 10 years and 20 years down the road.
So to accomplish that, we’re going to identify five big ideas that will serve our mission and push forth our vision. Our mission is that we are in business to help you do business, and again, identifying that a business is not merely for-profit. Everyone in the community who is involved in some organization recognizes that they are dealing with the same opportunities and challenges that any business deals with. And that’s where we’re here to help.
So we’ll start by picking five big ideas. And we will identify how we will achieve those goals. They may be achieved in a year, or it may take longer. But once we achieve each goal, we will have a platform where people can communicate what the needs are, so once we achieve a goal, we’ll already have another one ready to go.
How do nonprofits fit into the overall chamber membership?
KM: It’s not what you usually think of (when you think of a chamber member), but they’re a part of this community. As a chamber, we want to support them too. It just goes back to that inclusivity. Again, we may see the fruits of it in the next couple of years, or it may be 10 or 20 years down the road. But it needs to start somewhere; it needs to start with a conversation, and it needs to start today.
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