Spokane Journal of Business

Greater Spokane Incorporated revises approach to strategic plan

Organization focuses on five key initiatives

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Greater Spokane Incorporated is restructuring its strategic plan for improving the Spokane area’s business climate, with the goal of prioritizing those items that can be implemented soonest, says GSI CEO Todd Mielke. 

“The previous plan was divided into several separate plans within one document,” he says. “We’ve gone back and outlined all our goals. Now, we’re working to determine which of our partners are best equipped to lead, develop strategies, and drive the implementation of those goals.”

GSI’s partners include both municipal partners like the City of Spokane, Spokane County, and Spokane International Airport, as well as organizations such as Associated Industries, Downtown Spokane Partnership, Impact Washington, and the Small Business Association.

Goals for GSI’s original strategic plan were formed around areas of improvement listed as part of the results of a study called Driving Competitive Change, which GSI commissioned in summer of 2015. 

Conducted by TadZo, a Yakima-based economic development and site selection consulting firm, the study graded Spokane on 10 key competitiveness factors.

The study ranked the Spokane area as being high in human capital, sustainability, and permitting and regulatory environment. While it also ranked above average in transportation, utilities and infrastructure, location, and entrepreneurship and innovation resources, the area had only a middling grade in business climate, and ranked poorly in real estate and incentives. 

Following the study, GSI created an economic development advisory group to begin working to formulate recommendations to address the area’s shortcomings as highlighted by the study and to improve its overall competitiveness.

The group was to present its recommendations to the GSI board in time for them to be incorporated into GSI’s strategic planning effort for its 2016 fiscal year. 

However, GSI delayed work on those recommendations during a change in its leadership, when Mielke became GSI’s new CEO in February of 2016, replacing Steve Stevens, who had commissioned the competitiveness study.

Mielke says the new strategic plan was submitted to GSI’s board of directors last September, and since that time, the organization has been streamlining it, in order to begin implementation.  

 “As part of the revision process, we’ve begun to take a different look at just what economic development means,” he says. “I think most people think of economic development as just recruiting businesses to Spokane, but it’s a bit more complex than that.”

Mielke says in revising the strategic plan, GSI identified seven key areas of focus necessary to successful economic development. 

“There are three foundational elements, those being business climate, infrastructure, and a talented workforce,” he says. “Those first three elements must align with four remaining elements that are part of business development: startup, expansion, retention, and recruitment.”  

Mielke says because GSI and its partner organizations only have so many staff and funding with which to manage aspects of the strategic plan, it’s also important to prioritize tasks. 

“Going forward, all of our programs will be keeping those seven foundational elements in mind,” he says. “But at the same time, we’re also trying to develop work plans that align with our annual budget and are reflective of the year’s cycle.” 

To that end, Mielke says GSI has chosen five specific community initiatives to focus on. These include: growing regional education attainment; growing a healthy life sciences industry; expanding the region’s aerospace and advanced manufacturing industries; protecting and growing military jobs, operations, and infrastructure; and pursuing a dedicated source of economic development funding.  

Mielke says GSI has made steady progress toward each of those initiatives in the past year, but he’s particularly proud of its work on improving education attainment.

“Programs like Greater Minds are helping adults navigate the process of going back to school to finish a degree or certification,” he says. “We partner with students, employers, and higher education institutions to match each with the best program for their needs.”

He says since it was launched in January, Greater Minds has helped facilitate more than 100 adults going back to school. 

“These are people working in our community, and attending institutions here to complete their degree,” he says. 

Mielke says GSI also continues to host other programs that work toward educating students on careers and workplace environments, including Spokane STEM, and the Business after School program, as well as the Teach the Teachers workshop. 

In the area of growing a healthy life sciences industry, Mielke says GSI continues to support educational partnerships, and lobby the legislature for funding to support health science programs as well as students pursuing health care professions. 

“WSU’s new medical school launched its first class of students this year, which is exciting,” he says. “We also continue to work with the higher education community to promote life sciences education and research, as well as find ways we can help market that research to companies interested in developing it.”

In the area of expanding aerospace and advanced manufacturing, Mielke says GSI has been working to retain aerospace manufacturers, and stayed active in supporting Spokane International Airport projects. 

 “We also continue to support the Spokane Airports on capital projects,” he says. “Their recent efforts to increase flights in and out of the region have helped us keep customers and suppliers connected, and added to both business travel and tourism,” he says.

Mielke says GSI has also made progress toward helping to protect and grow military jobs, operations, and infrastructure. 

“This year Fairchild Air Force Base became one of the largest tanker bases in the US, with a total of 60 tankers based here,” he says. “Additional growth will come as a result of that achievement, and we’re happy to keep supporting that success.”

Lastly, Mielke says GSI continues to work toward developing a dedicated source of funding for economic development, such as establishing a port district.

He says GSI has begun researching the pros and cons of creating a port district, including developing a survey for residents to determine interest.

“We’re still evaluating different options,” he says. “Anything we do would require the vote of citizens here so we want to make sure we do our due diligence and provide them with information as to why they should support these efforts.”  

Mielke says this week GSI’s board will hold its annual meeting and retreat, and begin planning its annual budget. 

“Every department within GSI will be preparing work plans to pursue these next few months, and our immediate focus will be on things happening this fall,” he says.

In the next few months, he says GSI will be looking to ramp up more support for programs like Greater Minds and Startup Spokane to encourage educational attainment as well as business retention and development activities. 

He adds that although the state Legislature is not in session this fall, GSI also will continue its advocacy efforts, working to educate regional businesses on upcoming ballot issues, and candidates running for office.

“We’ll also continue to lobby through our public policy arm for things like the North Spokane Corridor and other key transportation projects,” he says.

LeAnn Bjerken
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Reporter LeAnn Bjerken covers health care at the Journal of Business. A Minnesota native and cat lover, she enjoys beachside vacations and writing poetry. LeAnn has worked for the Journal since 2015.

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