Spokane Journal of Business

Focus 21 successor is studied

Economic-development effort ‘can’t stop,’ given tough business climate

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Business leaders here are working to set up a new economic-development campaign to succeed the $5 million, five-year Focus 21 effort, which has entered its final year.

JoAnn Ficca, who served for a year as Focus 21s president and now is working as a consultant to the organization, says she hopes that a plan for the next round of targeted business support for economic development here will be announced by the end of August.

We cant stop the effort, Ficca says. In fact, given some of the issues surrounding the economy and energy right now, we need to step it up. Weve got the risk of Kaiser (Aluminum & Chemical Corp. closing its Mead smelter permanently); weve got several companies in town that are downsizing.

Focus 21, which will end its final operating year next June 30, followed two consecutive five-year efforts by the Momentum organization, formed by business leaders here in 1987 to help the Spokane area claw its way out of an economic trough.

While Momentum was a high-profile, headline-grabbing organization, Focus 21 has generated so little attention that critics have complained they dont know what Focus 21 is or what it does, but thats a bum rap, Ficca contends.

The tax-increment financing thing wouldnt have happened without Focus 21, she declares flatly. Ficca says Focus 21-funded lobbying efforts helped persuade the Washington Legislature to pass legislation that enables local governments to use tax-increment financing to spur development.

Also because of the Focus 21-funded lobbying, the lawmakers approved more than $40 million in state-funded Spokane-area projects, she adds. Yet, the credit for the lobbying has gone to the Spokane Area Chamber of Commerce, which employed lobbyist Todd Mielke with money provided by Focus 21, Ficca says. Similarly, the Spokane Area Economic Development Council has received credit for business-recruitment and -retention efforts that Focus 21 helped fund, she says.

Using Focus 21 funds, the chamber hired (regulatory affairs coordinator) Jeff Selle to focus on energy, she says. Thanks to Selles work, the chamber was able to hold an energy summit here and also make a special effort to urge the Bonneville Power Administration to make more electricity available to Kaiser from Pacific Northwest federal dams, Ficca says.

She called the latter effort one of the purest forms of business retention that there is.

Focus 21 leaders havent sought the limelight, and that might have been an oversight on their part, Ficca says.

Weve communicated with our investors. I think the big lesson for me is that we need to communicate well beyond our investors. From an executive-team point of view, we werent concerned about whether Focus 21 was getting the credit until it became time to think about what we would do when Focus 21 was over.

That time now has come, and she says that as she has prepared recommendations on the organizational form, funding, and governance of Focus 21s successor organization, she has interviewed about 60 people and reviewed the strategic plans of several organizations here that work on economic development.

The other part of the two-pronged effort thats being carried out to set up a successor to Focus 21 has been to devise a strategic economic-development plan, she says. Chamber President Rich Hadley and EDC President Mark Turner are spearheading that work.

A wide spectrum of business leaders will be briefed soon on a planning committees recommendations for Focus 21s successor, Ficca says.

Those leaders will include the heads of key economic-development organizations, public-sector leaders, neighborhood representatives, key investors, and what I like to call key potential investors, she says.

While Focus 21 is managing the effort to determine its successor, the decision on the form of the new organization, its goals, and its funding objectives will be a community decision made by a broad cross-section of leaders, Ficca says.

Focus 21 isnt ready to say how much money organizers will seek to fund the next development thrust, Ficca says. She adds, however, that David Kolzow, a consultant who prepared a strategic economic-development plan for a task force appointed by former Spokane Mayor John Talbott, concluded that economic-development efforts here needed to be funded with twice as much money as Focus 21s $1 million a year in annual outlays.

To get businesses here to support Focus 21s successor with their dollars, what we have to do is make sure we have a good consensus on what the priorities are and a good consensus to support them, Ficca says. This is a tough time to be asking for money.

  • Richard Ripley

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