Spokane Journal of Business

Q&A with Leadership Spokane executive director Jaxon Riley

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-—Ari Nordhagen

Leadership Spokane, a nonprofit organization that offers an annual civic leadership training program, was established in autumn 1982. Located on the second floor of the Spokane Regional Business Center, at 801 W. Riverside, downtown, Leadership Spokane offers a 10-month course that aims to help participants grow personally and professionally, network with peers across industries, and learn more about the Spokane region. 

The Journal sat down with executive director Jaxon Riley, who has been with the organization for five years and in her current role since last spring, to learn more about Leadership Spokane.

Journal: In the five years you’ve been with Leadership Spokane, how have you seen it change?

Riley: We’re having more and more applicants every year. It’s become very competitive.

We have had the unbelievable pleasure of, coincidentally, re-engaging with a group of alumni from the first, second, and third classes ever. It turned out that this group of people — seven from the first class, one from the second class, and one from the third class — had been meeting regularly for 37 years. They’ve had a closed-door meeting for 37 years where they all talk about their current challenges and victories and undertakings, and they’re from all different facets of business. They are so fun to talk to, because they built Spokane.

Last year, for the first regular class, we invited that group to come and talk to the class as the last speaker of the day. It’s one of my favorite things that’s happened since I’ve been here. Watching that bridge being built between those two groups and talking about what they got out of Leadership Spokane, and then encouraging these younger people to get to know the whole community and how it works together and how valuable that collaboration is between the different sectors of business. They’re coming back this year.

Journal: Is there one quality that graduates of the program share?

Riley: They all have an interest in expanding and learning. Pretty much across the board, there’s usually a great propensity to say, “I want to learn more about the sectors of business that I don’t work in, and how we can collaborate, how we can work together to make Spokane a stronger community.” An interest in that is the tie that links them all together.

Journal: What has Leadership Spokane been focused on lately?

Riley: We make a concerted effort to try to be very aware of what’s going on in the community and to follow that. They meet the first Friday of every month, from 7:30 in the morning to 4:30 in the afternoon. Each day has a subject matter focus. For example, the first class day in October will be governance day … the next month is regional economy day.

The first thing that we do is we put them on a tour bus, and we drive them around Spokane and the Spokane Valley. There is a knowledgeable member of the business community who’s our moderator, and she points out areas of economic interest and growth, and we talk about how they’re funded. 

For example, last year, we swagged the tour up Monroe Street, because they had just finished that Monroe Street project. We talked about how there were matching funds from the city for the businesses to refurb their facades, and how that project was funded and why and what the hopes were for it.

The other thing that we do is community service projects. We have a request for proposals on our website during the majority of the summer, and we encourage local nonprofits to apply for the opportunity to have a community service team help them with a project. It has to be a defined, singular project. 

The teams do a project, and their presentations at the end about what their project was and how it worked are judged by a panel of alumni. 

The partner business provides an amount of funding that will then go to the winning nonprofit. Avista stepped up to sponsor our community service project, and the winning nonprofit will get a $1,500 award.

Journal: What kind of people are you looking for to join Leadership Spokane? Who should consider joining? 

Riley: People who are interested in learning and growing. They have to have enthusiasm for learning and enthusiasm for our community. They want to help strengthen Spokane and make it a healthier place all the time, because you can always improve. 

We welcome people from all different sizes of businesses, and that’s one of the things I really like to encourage. It’s a regular part of my life to meet people and hear them say ‘I work in this small business’ or ‘I work at this small nonprofit and there’s no way we could afford (the cost of the program).’ We actually have alumni organizations that fund sponsorships. However, if you don’t apply, we can’t give you a sponsorship.

Journal: If readers should know one thing about Leadership Spokane, what should it be? 

Riley: I would say that the one thing I would want people to know about Leadership Spokane is that our goal is to create a community-wide group of servant leaders who collaborate and work toward building a healthier, more successful city. That’s why we’re here.

Journal: Looking forward, what do you see for the organization’s future?

Riley: I hope that we’re always staying relevant and current. We try so hard to make sure that we are keeping up with business trends and what’s going on in the community, across the entire county. 

We also have a youth program for sophomores, juniors, and seniors, from any high school in the county ... and homeschooled children. We would hope to continue to make sure that that program is successful and relevant to what young people need to learn before they go out in the world.

Virginia Thomas
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Reporter Virginia Thomas has worked at the Journal since 2017 and covers the banking and finance industries. As a reporter, she loves learning about Spokane's many growing industries. She enjoys travelling with her husband, snuggling with her cats, and cross stitching.

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