GSI, partners launch Believe Spokane initiative
Program targets $1B in economic impact
Karina EliasMarch 16th, 2023
Greater Spokane Incorporated and community fund partners have raised $3 million ahead of schedule to fund economic development initiatives and talent recruitment and retention efforts for the region.
Alisha Benson, CEO of GSI, says the goal was to raise $3 million over five years.
“We did it faster than we intended,” she says. “Our investors are all (invested) in the acceleration and growth of our community.”
The funds were raised as part of the organization’s five-year campaign, Believe Spokane, which kicked off earlier this month at GSI’s annual celebration event at the Spokane Convention Center.
The Believe Spokane campaign aims to increase economic vitality for the region with a focus on economic development and talent attraction and retention. The funds raised for the campaign will go toward achieving those goals by growing existing industries, supporting and sustaining small businesses and entrepreneurship, and attracting new investments and jobs to the region.
Benson says GSI hopes to raise another $1 million for an executive leadership program that will hire leaders for two-year fellowships to support and grow business sectors. Each fellow would be paid $300,000 over the two-year period.
GSI hasn’t raised the funds needed to start the fellowship program yet, but Benson says once it does, GSI will focus on recruiting a Veteran Affairs Fellow.
“Our military families and veterans are key populations as we think about talent attraction and workforce needs,” says Benson.
The campaign is starting with the goal to create $1 billion in economic impact and grow 5,000 primary jobs from the recruitment of new businesses in targeted areas. Such primary jobs are projected to make in the neighborhood of $32 an hour and are expected to create an additional 4,400 secondary jobs with an average pay of $23 per hour to support those businesses.
The initiative also will establish an Opportunity Fund to capitalize on growth prospects in the Spokane region and create an accelerator program that will support and grow small businesses.
Lisa Poplawski Lewis, GSI vice president of development and partnerships, says the Spokane County Business Accelerator Program, a component of Believe Spokane, is gaining momentum with its goal to increase revenue for 50 underrepresented businesses by 25% its inaugural year, and 50% in its second year of using the accelerator.
Underrepresented businesses include businesses run by women, veterans, people from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, members of the LGBTQ community, and businesses in rural communities, Poplawski Lewis says.
In addition, Believe Spokane plans to connect 100 underrepresented businesses with assistance and resources to promote their growth.
“There has been a lot of excitement around the accelerator program,” says Poplawski Lewis. “Our first community partner will work with us to identify small and underrepresented businesses that will be part of our first cohort.”
Poplawski Lewis says the campaign had been in the works for about a year when GSI hired Atlanta-based Convergent Nonprofit Solutions to conduct a feasibility study to understand better what is needed as the community emerges from the pandemic.
At the same time, GSI has been doing work with Thrive Spokane, the comprehensive economic development study for Spokane County, she says. Together with Thrive and the Convergent study, GSI put together a plan that outlines what is expected for the Spokane community as it moves into a new phase, she says.
“The campaign really reflects what that above-and-beyond work is for GSI and the need to have greater funding for our work,” she says.
GSI is located on the second floor of the Spokane Regional Business Center, at 801 W. Riverside, in downtown Spokane, and is the Spokane area’s combined chamber of commerce and area economic development council. As a business development organization, GSI works to bring regional partners together to advocate for the business community.
Benson says economic development isn’t funded in a sustainable manner in Spokane County. Rather, she asserts, it’s primarily funded by private-sector investments in organizations like GSI.
“There are things that the community assumes we are doing, and it’s challenging because … we have to keep raising money to keep doing what should be some basic economic development work,” she says.
As a result, GSI expects to conduct continued fundraising every five years, she says.
“We are creating an expectation as a community that we need to continue to invest in the things we need to build, grow, develop, and diversify here in the region,” she says.
Poplawski Lewis agrees. “Our goal is to use this as a strong base as we come out of a volatile period for our community,” she says.
The campaign also will aim to provide a minimum of 300 internships for post-secondary students, upskill training and support for 100 underserved businesses, and career pathway experiences for 5,000 students prior to high school graduation.
“Education and training have received great grant funding to support connectivity with our kindergarten to 30-year-old population,” says Poplawski Lewis.
The campaign also will focus on ways to promote the greater Spokane region as a place to expand business through in-person and virtual tours, outreach, and marketing to strategic cities and trade shows. The initiative will target the life-sciences sectors, advanced manufacturing, clean energy, and technology.
“Ten years ago, this community set a focus on growing the life sciences by 2030,” says Benson. “We are right in the middle of that as a community.”
Benson adds that part of growing the life sciences sector is building the infrastructure needed to support it, such as the creation of the University District and the medical schools.
“I’m excited to see what this looks like in five years,” says Benson. “All of this has been built out of intentionality and wanting to build a more resilient community out of COVID.”
Community fund partners that invested in the campaign prior to its launch include Avista Corp., Garco Construction Inc., The Cowles Co., BECU, and Numerica Credit Union among others.