Spokane Journal of Business

Chambers unite to form political action committee

Group plans to incorporate after it recruits North Side, West Plains board members

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The Spokane Area and Spokane Valley chambers of commerce are forming a political action committee that will support ballot measures that impact the regions business climate positively. The PAC also will recruit and support elected officials who share its concerns.

The most important reason for forming the PAC is that we see a need for a real invigorated, positive voice in this community, and thats what well provide, says Ray Lawton, public policy team leader for the Spokane Area chamber and president of Lawton Printing Inc., of Spokane.

The committee, which is to be called the Business Alliance for Inland Northwest Prosperity, has submitted documents to the state Public Disclosure Commission and is expected to incorporate as a Washington state nonprofit corporation within the next week, says Dan Kirschner, public affairs director for the Spokane Area chamber. Before incorporating, though, the Business Alliance is trying to round out its board with businesspeople from the West Plains and the North Side, he says.

We want to create a board that is diverse geographically, says JoAnn Matthiesen, incoming chairwoman of the Spokane Area chamber and an officer of Avista Corp. We want all areas of the county to be represented because we want to make sure that we have family-wage jobs here and make sure that we have a standard of living that promotes a healthy business climateand these are issues that affect all parts of Spokane County.

Leaders from both chambers have been discussing separately the need to form a PAC for the past 12 months or so, Kirschner says. He says that in August, the Spokane Area chambers board authorized its staff members to begin making formal plans for the PAC. That chamber then contacted the Valley chamber to see if it was interested in participating, and the two chambers began working jointly on the endeavor.

The Business Alliance will be a separate entity from either chamber here, but representatives from both groups will sit on the PACs board, says Frank Tombari, past chairman of the Valley chamber and a vice president at Farmers & Merchants Bank. Although the structure of the committees board hasnt been finalized yet, its expected to be made up of between nine and 15 businesspeople from Spokane County. Leaders of the two chambers are expected to fill a total of five of the up to 15 board seats, he says.

The objectives of the Business Alliance are to help elect political officeholders who demonstrate a clear commitment to: fostering economic growth, promoting free enterprise, advocating for efficient government throughout the region, and improving government accountability to business needs. The group also plans to support efforts to improve the responsiveness of local and state government to regional business needs, and to support ballot measures that have a positive impact on the regions business climate.

Tombari says that some of the federal and state issues that the Business Alliance will focus on include those that relate to transportation, economic development, work-force development, and budgets for the higher education community here.

Tombari, Lawton, Matthiesen, and John Wagner, immediate past chairman of the Spokane Area chamber, were the key organizers of the Business Alliance, Kirschner says.

Matthiesen says shell be wearing two hats on the new boardone as a representative of the chamber and the other as a representative of Avista.

Locally, we want to make sure we have a business climate thats healthy and progressing, she says. We want to make sure we have people in official positions who are working with us on issues like growth management, land development, the use of natural resources. Its really important for the business climate here that the business community and the elected officials are working together.

In addition to Wagner, Tombari, Matthiesen, and Lawton, the Business Alliance board will include Susan Ashe, of Kaiser Aluminum & Chemical Corp.; Greg Bever, of the Journal of Business; Chris Marr, of Foothills Lincoln Mercury Mazda; Jim McDevitt, of Preston Gates & Ellis LLP; Susan Meyer, of Telect Inc.; Chris Schnug, of Moss Adams LLP; and Larry Stanley, of Empire Bolt & Screw Inc.

When asked whether the Business Alliance would be ready to start backing issues during the election this November, Lawton said, Im hopeful that well have some impact on this Novembers election, but the formation of the Business Alliance was a long-term decision. I expect this committee to be active long into the future.

  • Lisa Harrell

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