Spokane Journal of Business

Focus 21 to allocate $882,000

Chamber has proposed opening a learning center for downtown employees

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Focus 21, Spokanes new five-year economic-development effort, has allocated $882,000 for projects aimed at achieving its goal of creating 10,000 good-paying jobs here between 1997 and 2002.

One of the projects involves development of a downtown learning center, which would serve downtown employers who want to upgrade the skills of their current employees and train workers for new entry-level jobs.

Joanne Murcar, of the Community Colleges of Spokane and the work-force development coordinator for the Spokane Area Chamber of Commerce, says the chamber and the community colleges, which would develop the learning center jointly, hope to begin offering classes there by January, although the classes that will be offered are still under discussion. She says that chamber President and CEO Rich Hadley currently is working to secure space for the center.

The funding allocated by Focus 21 also will enable the chamber and the community colleges to continue and expand the On-The-Job College program, which they launched together last year. The program provides education counseling, career planning, and various courses required for liberal arts and vocational and technical degrees. The community-college level courses are offered with flexible scheduling to meet the needs of employed workers. A pilot site for that program was set up at the offices of Spokane-based Itron Inc., where 124 employees from Itron, Itronix Corp., Telect Inc., Kaiser Aluminum & Chemical Corp.s Trentwood plant, Wagstaff Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., and Accra-Fab Inc. are participating in the program.

By next June, an On-The-Job College program is expected to add additional sites in Airway Heights and in downtown Spokane. The programs downtown branch is expected to be located in the planned downtown learning center, along with other programs.

Those two projects and others have been proposed through four programs, which have been developed by Focus 21 and are run by the Spokane chamber, the Spokane Area Economic Development Council, and the Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce. Officials of the agencies submitted requests to Focus 21 for funds for the programs in June. The four programs are: business recruitment, business retention and expansion, work-force development, and public policy and public affairs. The funding was approved recently by the Focus 21 Roundtable, a group of about 20 business executives and government officials.

Janelle Fallan, who is providing administrative support to Focus 21, says the EDC is to receive $300,000 to operate the business recruitment program from July 1, 1998, to June 30, 1999. The Spokane chamber is to receive $280,000 to operate both the business retention and expansion program and the work-force development program during the same period. The Spokane and Spokane Valley chambers together are to receive a total of $150,000 to operate the public policy and public affairs program. The remaining about $152,000 goes to cover Focus 21s annual commitment of $100,000 to the Spokane Regional Business Center, plus administrative costs, she says. The business center is being developed at 9 N. Post downtown.

Retention, expansion

Two of the projects that were proposed by the Spokane chamber for the business retention and expansion program included the development of a health-care research initiative and the possible development of a technology and manufacturing incubator here.

The chamber plans to convene health-care industry executives and researchers this month to review health-care related research currently under way in the Inland Northwest and to consider what other research could be conducted. Such research is seen as a way to boost the health-care sectorand the economyhere. The meeting will be hosted by Congressman George Nethercutt.

The chamber also says it plans to formalize talks with the EDC and the Spokane Intercollegiate Research and Technology Institute (SIRTI) to develop a plan for a technology incubator at SIRTI.

SIRTI spokeswoman Mary Joan Hahn says SIRTI is willing to work with the Spokane chamber to pursue the idea, but nothing has been inaugurated yet.

Hahn adds, though, that SIRTI plans to hold a technology conference this fall, which will feature at least two speakers who will talk about technology incubators. One of the planned speakers is from the Tri-Cities and the other is from Calgary, both of which have award-winning business incubators, she says.

The chamber, in its proposal, said it plans to visit incubators in North Idaho; San Jose, Calif.; Austin, Texas; Boulder, Colo.; Roanoke, Va.; and the Tri-Cities.

EDC recruitment

In its proposal for Focus 21 funding for the business recruitment program, the EDC, which has committed to attract an average of 1,000 jobs a year for five years, said that it hopes to pursue additional recruitment efforts in British Columbia, similar to a recruiting effort that already is under way along the Interstate-5 corridor and in the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas. That effort includes mailing four different direct-mail pieces to about 20,000 manufacturing, production-oriented, or industrial businesses, and then following up the mailings with phone calls.

EDC President Mark Turner says he hopes the agency will begin some recruitment efforts in British Columbia this calendar year.

Political action, public affairs

The Spokane and Spokane Valley chambers, in their proposal for the political action and public affairs program, said they will continue to push for public policies that are beneficial to Focus 21 strategies and will continue to work to defeat public policy proposals that impede those strategies. Fallan says that a portion of the money the chambers receive from Focus 21 for the political action program will help pay for a lobbyist in Olympia during the Washington Legislatures upcoming session.

In their proposal, the chambers said they have fought for the River Park Square redevelopment project downtown, expansion of the citys convention center facilities downtown, and SIRTIs establishment as an independent state agency.

  • Lisa Harrell

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