Spokane Journal of Business

2021 Rising Stars: Avista Corp.’s Kara Hensley

Project manager enjoys learning how things work

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Tenacious is the first word that comes to mind when describing Kara Hensley, says Jan Quintrall.

Hensley, formerly Heatherly, 31, currently works as a project manager for Avista Corp.

Quintrall and Hensley met in 2012 when Hensley started working for Mayor David Condon at the city of Spokane. Quintrall, who was a division director at the time with the city’s Business and Developer Services division, says she “stole her away” to assist Mike Taylor, who worked on the city’s massive wastewater treatment plant project as deputy division director of Spokane’s planning, engineering, and building services division.

Quintrall says, “She’s one of those people who has it all. She understands the financial end. She understands the nuts and bolts of how a project gets done.”

Hensley says, “I was, I guess, scrappy in that way, and so they thought … you should do this. It was totally foreign. I knew nothing about public works at all, but I just got to write the script, which was neat.”

Hensley worked for the city of Spokane for nearly eight years before making the jump to Avista in late 2019.

“I spent a good part of my early career trying to figure out things about wastewater and felt after six years that I could at least carry myself in a conversation that was technical in nature,” she says. “Then I jumped over to Avista, which does hydro and thermal generation and the whole other half of utility that’s not water and wastewater. It’s a whole different field of engineering, a whole different body to work in. It was definitely a lot to learn … but I think that challenge is part of the fun.”

While Hensley never envisioned herself as a project manager growing up, she says, “I knew that I wanted to do something that I was passionate about. It’s really cool to be able to drive around and see projects that we’ve touched.”

She adds that before moving to Avista, she was involved in the Riverfront Park redevelopment, the Huntington Park development adjacent to City Hall, and the Post Street Bridge project, which is currently underway.

Her favorite project, however, was the $200 million upgrade to the Riverside Park Wastewater Treatment Facility.

“It’s not very often that a community spends over $200 million on any single investment,” she says.

Hensley says the ability to see how things work and how they can be improved drew her to project management as a career.

“Project management is one of those things that I don’t think I identified as a skill set early on in my career,” she says. “I had more of that perspective that I want to fix things. … There’s no shortage of things to fix.”

Quintrall adds that Hensley sees the “big picture.”

“It was so refreshing to see someone as young as she was that capable and that smart,” Quintrall says.

Hensley first moved to Spokane from California to attend Whitworth University. She graduated in 2012 with degrees in business management, marketing, and journalism.

“I joked at the time that I studied everything but math and science,” she says with a laugh, noting that her current career as a project manager with Avista requires her to use both math and science.

Hensley also has an MBA from Gonzaga, which she attained in 2015.

“If you would have asked me 10 years ago if I would still be here, I would have thought you were crazy, let alone that I would still want to be here,” says Hensley.

She notes that now, because of the people here and the relationships she’s built, she doesn’t see herself and her new husband, Jake Hensley, leaving Spokane. 

“What you do matters a lot less than how you do it and who you do it with,” she contends. “What I found in my career is that what I’m passionate about is working to improve the experience for anybody who touches it.”


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Natasha Nellis
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Reporter Natasha Nellis joined the Journal in May 2018 and covers real estate and construction. Natasha is an avid reader and loves taking photos, traveling, and learning new languages.

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