Spokane Journal of Business

Agencies adjust to change in Focus 21 contributions

Spokane Chamber to move to new office space; EDC mulling staff reductions

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As Focus 21 leaders discuss the future of the private economic-development organization, its two beneficiaries here are adjusting their operations to reflect current or potential reductions in the contributions they receive from the group.

For the Spokane Area Economic Development Council (EDC), that means taking an austerity approach and hoping that layoffs wont be necessary later this year, says President and CEO Mark Turner.

For the Spokane Regional Chamber of Commerce, it means moving the chambers offices to the ground floor of its Spokane Regional Business Center building downtown and looking for a paying tenant to occupy its current offices on the fourth floor of that building.

Focus 21s original five-year term is coming to a close next month after the organization has raised $5 million in cash and in-kind contributions, which it distributed to the chamber and the EDC for programs such as job recruitment and expansion and political lobbying. Because Focus 21 followed two similar fund-raising programs, conducted by the Momentum economic-development organization, the conclusion of Focus 21 caps 15 years of effort to support economic development here, says Janelle Fallan, who administers Focus 21 and is vice president of strategic programs for the Spokane Regional chamber.

In January, Focus 21 decided against launching another five-year campaign, saying the local economy was too uncertain, and instead is raising funds for an 18-month extension that it envisions as a bridge to whatever comes next, Fallan says. The group has raised about $500,000 toward its goal of $1.36 million for that campaign, and it expects to stop fund raising by the end of June, she says.

The question is, of course, do you raise as much money as you would like to? she says. Were moving along pretty well, but its not easy.

While Focus 21 has said it will pay the EDC and the chamber for work theyve done through May of this year on programs it supports, the latter half of 2002 is a question mark.

JoAnn Ficca, president of Focus 21, says she plans to meet with the groups roundtable very soon to talk about what happens if the funding goal for the bridge campaign isnt met.

At the same time, Focus 21 is looking at what will come after the 18-month bridge campaign, Fallan says.

Theres a pretty strong feeling, especially among the business community, that weve been doing this for 15 years (and) maybe we need to look at a different approach, she says.

Turner, of the EDC, says his organization is very hopeful that the current capital campaign will be successful. At the same time, hes considering staff cuts in the event that funding doesnt come through at the level the EDC was expecting. Last year, Focus 21 gave $390,000 to the EDC, he says.

A reduction in Focus 21 contributions could result in some pretty serious, if not drastic, cuts to the economic-development organization, he says. If funding were reduced, the EDC would prefer to lay off some of its 10-person staff before resorting to cutting services, he says.

At the Spokane Regional Chamber, Focus 21 had provided about $100,000 a year toward the operation of the Spokane Regional Business Center, at 801 W. Riverside, and that funding has ended, says CEO Rich Hadley. The chamber-owned building is a hub of 11 community- and economic-development organizations.

Without Focus 21 support, the chamber is seeking to generate more revenue from the building, and the logical place to make changes is on the first floor, which currently is used for interactive displays highlighting the region.

Most of your readers would understand that its an office building for which 20 percent of the building was not earning revenue, Hadley says.

The chamber is negotiating with several potential tenants to occupy its 7,000-square-foot space on the fourth floor.

Being on the first floor will have benefits, Hadley says: It will make the chamber, which employs 19 people, more accessible and visible to passers-by.

Turner says hes optimistic about Focus 21s chances of meeting its bridge-campaign funding goal. He says hes particularly anxious for that to happen because part of the money would go toward finding a permanent funding solution for the chamber and the EDC, such as approval of a port district or a sales tax dedicated to economic development.

Economic development (in this area) over a long period of time has been very much a hand-to-mouth type of thing, he says. I think its admirable that the business community and others have stepped up to support economic development like they have, but ultimately they have to find a permanent funding solution.

  • Addy Hatch

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