Spokane Journal of Business

Potter joins marketing effort

Prolific recruiter to create leads for ‘Great Inland Northwest’ program

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A new initiative to recruit businesses to Eastern Washington and North Idaho has hired former Jobs Plus Inc. President Bob Potter to generate leads.

The initiative is aimed at creating recognition for what it calls the Great Inland Northwest, and it will be funded by big companies and through contributions from various economic-development organizations here.

Potter was a prolific recruiter in his 15 years as head of Jobs Plus, the Coeur dAlene-based economic-development organization, attracting some 70 companies to Kootenai County before retiring last year.

His hiring was applauded by two of the organizations whose support the initiative is seekingthe Spokane Area Economic Development Council and Jobs Plusand they both say theyll likely contribute money to support it.

We think this has some real potential, especially if Bob Potter is generating the leads, says Paul Anderson, chairman of the Jobs Plus board and Coeur dAlene-area manager for Avista. Bob Potter has a proven history he knows where to go dig and where to go hunt.

Says Jon Eliassen, president and CEO of the Spokane EDC, Having Bob Potter involved brings an incredible opportunity for renewed focus to our area as a premier location for business.

The Great Inland Northwest initiative was the brainchild of Avista Corp. and Inland Northwest Partners, a Liberty Lake-based nonprofit organization whose members include representatives of economic-development groups, businesses, and chambers of commerce throughout the region.

Roger Woodworth, vice president of business development at Avista, says that to accelerate the well-being of our community, its important to attract new businesses here. Nationally, however, the Inland Northwest is not on the mapwe dont have any real recognition as a region, he adds, and the marketing campaign is designed to address that problem.

Besides contracting with Potter to generate leads of companies that might want to move to the region, the initiative also will fund trade-show booths, marketing materials, and a Web site to create awareness of the region, Woodworth says.

Potter says he wont interfere with the activities of economic-development organizations. His only roles will be to generate leads of companies that might be interested in moving here, and to teach other economic-development professionals his methods for doing so, he says.

You cant catch a fish if you dont have a line in the water, Potter says. Im just another line in the water.

He selects prospects carefully, he says, using a simple processits no Harvard Business School case.

First, he goes through directories to find companies that offer high-paying jobs, such as those in the high-tech manufacturing industry, and that are located in high-cost areas, mostly in California, he says. He usually targets smaller companies because theyre easier to move and its easier to reach the top executive, he says. Potter then sends a package of information by priority mail to the top person at the company, and follows up with a telephone call a week or so later.

The big objective is to get an appointment for a sales call, he says. He plans to visit California about four times a year and to call on 10 to 20 companies per visit.

Once Potter identifies a lead, hell turn it over to the economic-development organizations so that different communities within the region can compete for that business and, hopefully, close the deal, he says.

Woodworth likens the concept to a Baskin-Robbins approachonce a prospect is through the door, theyll have their choice of many different options. Just bringing them to the region is the main goal, he says: If we can bring them here, anywhere, thats a success for everyone.

Businesses that have pledged money to launch the Great Inland Northwest initiative include Avista, Cowles Publishing Co. (owner of the Journal of Business), and Inland Northwest Health Services. In addition, some banks have indicated that they might support the program, Woodworth says.

Overall, the initiative hopes to collect $150,000 a year from businesses for at least three years, he says. Any funds contributed by economic-development organizations on top of that would be extra, and would help expand the programs scope, such as paying for advertising campaigns, he says. None of the seven or eight economic-development groups in the region has committed money to the program yet.

Well have enough (financial) commitments by the end of February to begin the work, Woodworth says, which includes taking a broad inventory of each communitys assets. The Great Inland Northwest initiative should begin by mid-year, he says. Potter will start calling on business prospects this spring, and will be paid on a contract basis.

Lead-generation of the sort Potter specializes in is something that everybody wants to do but not everybody can afford to do on their own, especially smaller economic-development organizations, Woodworth says.

Anderson, at Jobs Plus, says using Potters services will make it unnecessary for the Coeur dAlene organization to hire its own full-time lead generator, which it had been considering.

Although there has been sensitivity in the past about lumping Eastern Washington and North Idaho togetherKootenai County, for example, opted not to become a joint statistical area with Spokane Countythe marketing activities of the Great Inland Northwest initiative can be customized so that communities retain their individual identities, Woodworth says.

Its not intended to replace programs, he says. The idea is that you promote the region as a whole at the same time you promote your individual community.

Says Sharon Matthews, executive director of Inland Northwest Partners, This will help different communities pool their efforts in the areas where it makes sense, yet still have that customized approach.

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