Spokane Journal of Business

At midpoint, Focus 21 tallies 4,400 new jobs here

Group says EDC’s pipeline is full of companies looking at opening operations here

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Focus 21, Spokanes five-year economic-development fund, is about halfway through its campaign to create 10,000 good-paying jobs in the Spokane area by 2002, and the groups leaders believe its on track to accomplish that goal.

In its recently released annual report, Focus 21 asserts that as a direct result of its funding, the Spokane area has gained nearly 4,400 new jobs and that more than $250 million was secured from the Legislature last year for various projects in this metropolitan area.

Focus 21 now is supporting several new programs and initiatives, such as developing a technology incubator, streamlining the city and county permitting processes, and securing money for the development of a fund to support workforce-development training.

During Focus 21s most recent program year, which ended June 30, the Spokane Area Economic Development Council, which receives financial backing from Focus 21 for business-recruitment efforts, helped to entice six companies to relocate or expand to Spokane, says Janelle Fallan, who is providing administrative support to Focus 21. Those companies eventually expect to employ a combined 426 workers here. In the year-earlier period, the EDC recruited nine companies that expect eventually to employ a combined 892 workers here.

In the last six months, the EDC has recruited another nine companies with an expected combined employment of another 981 jobs, bringing the current number of announced new jobs to 2,299 since Focus 21s inception in 1997, Fallan says. Nearly all of those new jobs offer an average annual salary of between $28,000 and $45,000 a year, she says.

In addition to those new jobs, the Spokane Area Chamber of Commerce says it has helped some businesses here create at least another 600 jobs during the most recent project year, through its business-retention and expansion efforts, which also are funded by Focus 21. During the 1997-98 program year, about 1,490 jobs were created through business retention and expansion, Fallan says. Thats a total of 4,389 jobs, or nearly 4,400.

Meanwhile, the EDC expects during the next three months to announce the arrival of another 250 jobs to the Spokane area, Fallan says.

The pipeline is very full, says Stacey Cowles, immediate past-president of Focus 21 and publisher of the Spokesman-Review. We dont know how many of those companies actually will locate here, but weve never had as big of a backlog as we have now.

The EDC says that during the current program year, it plans to concentrate its recruitment efforts primarily along the Interstate 5 corridor in Western Washington, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, because all of those areas tend to have start-up business costs that are higher than those in Spokane. Also, businesses in the Puget Sound area are exhausting that areas transportation, building, and work-force resources, making them prime candidates for relocation or expansion to Spokane, Fallan says.

Cowles says of Focus 21s efforts so far, We went to our investors when we were starting Focus 21, and we interviewed people to find out what they wanted to accomplish. From that, we developed a program and we have executedvirtually to a Twhat was expected.

He adds, I believe it will become even more exciting as we continue through the next couple of years.

Focus 21, the successor organization to Momentum, has raised nearly $5 million from about 300 companies in the Spokane area to fund creation of 10,000 higher-than-average-income jobs between 1997 and 2002. It contracts annually with Spokane-area economic development organizations to carry out integrated programs in business recruitment, business retention and expansion, work-force development, and public policy and public affairs.

For the current program year, which began July 1 and ends June 30 of this year, Focus 21 has allocated $942,000, compared with $882,000 in the year-earlier period, Fallan says.

The EDCs share is $343,000, which is used for the business-recruitment program. Likewise, the Spokane chamber gets $297,000 to operate both the business-retention and expansion program and the work-force development program. The Spokane chamber also will receive $150,000 to operate the public policy and public affairs program, which in part covers the salary of a full-time lobbyist.

The remaining about $152,000 will go to cover Focus 21s annual commitment of $100,000 to the Spokane Regional Business Center, at 9 N. Post, plus administrative costs, says Fallan.

Focus 21s full-time lobbyist, Todd Mielke, who is supervised by the Spokane chamber, helped secure initial funding of $210 million for the long-proposed north-south freeway and other transportation projects here during the 1999 session of the Washington Legislature. That funding, however, now has been jeopardized by the passage of Initiative 695 by voters last fall.

In spite of I-695, I still think that our ability to secure funding for the north-south freeway was a huge success for us, says JoAnn Ficca, vice president of Focus 21 and a spokeswoman for US West. If nothing else, I believe that the face that we presented in Olympia will be remembered the next time a big project like this comes up.

Mielke also helped to secure about $36 million for development of the Washington State University-led Health Sciences Building at the Riverpoint Higher Education Park and $10 million to renovate the Allied Health Building at Spokane Community College.

Current issues that the public policy program will concentrate on include monitoring Snake River operations and salmon recovery issues that impact the regions economy; advocating for expansion of the Spokane Convention Center; fighting to prevent implementation of a local B&O tax; supporting tax-increment financing to provide infrastructure for relocating businesses; and determining the benefits and the feasibility of establishing a port district here, says Focus 21s annual report.

Although its one of our long-term priorities, Spokane has put tax-increment financing on the horizon and created an interest in it among other cities in the state, Cowles says.

Other goals

According to proposals submitted to Focus 21 last June, the current goals for the business-retention and expansion program include:

Gaining city and county agreement to implement streamlined permitting processes.

Supporting the Spokane Intercollegiate Research and Technology Institutes plans to develop an incubator that will help up to 15 start-up companies.

Gathering together West Plains business owners to address infrastructure requirements needed to develop a city-served light industrial business park on the West Plains.

The current goals for the business-recruitment program include:

Securing funding to provide customized job training for Spokane-area employers. The EDC said that the lack of such a work-force development training pool has become a major point of contention with many employers considering relocating or expanding to Spokane.

Analyzing existing developable land within the city to identify potential development sites for businesses.

Assessing the feasibility of a business park designed specifically for biotechnology-related companies, such as a park that has been proposed on the West Plains by Biomedex Inc.

The current goals of the work-force development program include:

Expanding the Workforce Development Spokane web site, which was launched last year. The site links employers, training resources and job seekers.

Expanding the On-The-Job College program to the West Plains.

Expanding the Downtown Learning Center, which opened last March, to include health-care services, warehouse operations, and supervisory skill training. The center already has graduated 100 students from its call-center training program and expects to graduate 14 people from its machining program this year.

  • Lisa Harrell

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