Spokane Journal of Business

Guest Commentary: After recession, out economic future is filled with promise

Worst is behind us …

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Washington state’s history of innovation and diversity of strong industry sectors are crucial advantages as we advance through reopening, putting people back to work and creating jobs for the future.

To help our hardest-hit sectors and communities, Commerce has administered more than $526 million in relief grants to small businesses and nonprofits. 

This work was possible because of strong local partners across the state. For example, Greater Spokane Incorporated helped us get $6.68 million in relief grants to 592 area small business owners through the first three rounds of Working Washington Small Business grants.

AHANA and Spokane Independent Metro Business Alliance were part of our new Small Business Resiliency Network of 31 nonprofit, trusted community organizations. These network partners helped us reach small business owners from rural and historically underserved communities and provide grant application support and technical assistance in nearly 40 languages.

Nevertheless, our most recent economic recovery data shows a bumpy road back for many industries, such as air travel, leisure and hospitality, and live entertainment. Others, including professional services and manufacturing, are gaining momentum.

One thing is certain: As we continue bolstering those struggling sectors, we must invest strategically in promising innovation clusters for long-term vitality of our regional economy. Our region is seeing the effects of booming life science and clean technology sectors, for example.

As we look to the future, we can see how our history of building up innovative sectors bodes well for our state’s recovery and growth.

WSU’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine graduated its first class this month. Research grants and contract awards grew to more than $37 million last year, moving closer to achieving status as a top 25 public research university by 2030.

Spinout Space is WSU and Health Sciences Spokane’s regional startup hub to launch companies and help transfer their research to commercial success.

Ignite Northwest funds explosively growing companies, providing access to capital via the Spokane Angel Alliance and other angel investors and venture capital funds.

Those partnerships are crucial to help home-grown startups commercialize their discoveries and strengthen Washington’s life science ecosystem. That includes companies like Jubilant HollisterStier, which has been involved in manufacturing vaccine for COVID-19 and has plans for a $70 million expansion and 400 more employees locally. Selkirk Pharma recently broke ground on a new plant in West Plains, where it will employ 300 people.

Clean technology is another rapidly growing sector in our region. In Spokane’s University District, multiple public and private partners led by Avista and Eastern Washington University, along with McKinstry, Katerra, and others are creating a living laboratory for groundbreaking technologies.

Commerce invested $2.5 million through the Clean Energy Fund in Avista’s $7 million “Eco-District” project. Another grant provided $2.5 million for the Spokane Regional Transportation Council to install charging infrastructure at 51 locations.

Cultivating resilience and economic diversity requires clear vision, consistent investment, and strong public-private collaboration, as well as a deliberate focus on equity.

These recent successes demonstrate the power of the partnerships and innovation at work in our Inland Northwest region.


Lisa Brown is the director of the 

Washington state Department of Commerce.

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