Kim Zentz, executive director at Sirti, the Spokane-based Washington state economic development agency, once again appears to be showing her ability to help forge positive change in organizations where change is needed.
Zentz has been one of the key people helping guide an effort by Sirti to ensure its long-term presence here through legislation that would require it to sail into uncharted territory and take on a different form.
As the Journal reported last month, Sirti has helped craft legislation that would abolish it and a Seattle counterpart, the Washington Technology Center, and transfer their duties and functions to a new state agency, Innovate Washington. That agency would take a statewide, sector-based approach to bolstering promising technology enterprises.
Rather than resist such a dramatic and potentially fiefdom-weakening transformation, as some entrenched bureaucrats might be prone to do, Zentz has helped spearhead it, displaying the entrepreneurial and problem-solving mindset she has exhibited in other executive roles here.
Funding for the new organization was included in the recently released state Senate budget proposal, leaving Zentz feeling optimistic, and, as of earlier this week, it appeared likely to be approved by the Legislature.
If enacted, the changes would become effective Aug. 1. Although Sirti would be abolished, Zentz has said there would be little noticeable impact here, at least initially, under the new entity in terms of staff or breadth of services. Innovate Washington plans, though, to focus its resources heavily on the clean-energy sector at first as it reorganizes its priorities.
Zentz told the Journal last month that discussion of a merger began two years ago, partly out of concern about declining state funding, saying the depth of the cuts stirred questions about Sirti's long-term viability.
The amount of state general fund money that Sirti receives has fallen by close to $400,000, or nearly one-fourth, over the last three years, to about $1.3 million this fiscal year, ending June 30. Based partly on that decline, Sirti anticipates its expenses will exceed its revenue by about $237,000 this fiscal year, though reserves will cover that shortfall.
Zentz made clear, however, that separate from the adequacy-of-funding issue, she's become increasingly convinced that technology-focused economic development support services in the state are too fragmented. That fragmentation, she says, leads to less-than-optimum productivity and a lack of focus.
If anything, she says, the decline in state funding "should have caused us to question are we really doing all we can with each dollar" provided to the agencya mindfulness that now is at the forefront as it looks to evolve. That's a good thing, and so is Zentz' desire to see the agency here transform in whatever way is necessary for it to do its job as effectively as possible. These austere times demand no less.
Sirti has a substantial physical presence on the Riverpoint Campus east of downtown Spokane and, to be sure, it has provided crucial assistance to many technology startups here over the last two decades. It's important for that effort to continue, even if it means the organization here must take on a new identity and broader mission.
Zentz is a former longtime employee at Avista Corp., where she helped form Avista Labsnow doing business as ReliOn Inc.and served capably during a several-year stint as CEO at Spokane Transit Authority, helping restore public confidence in that agency and cope with big state spending cuts.
Her steadfast penchant for being innovative, when needed, is refreshing, and her desire to make sure taxpayers are getting the most bang for the buck shows that her private sector-honed leadership skills haven't dulled.
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