Spokane Journal of Business

The 2017 Journal of Business Rising Stars

Ten up-and-coming Spokane-area business leaders named to Journal's annual list

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Alisha Benson

Age: 36

Job title/company: Chief operating officer, Greater Spokane Incorporated. 

Education: B.A., sports management & marketing, Washington State University.

Tell us about your career so far. In my career, I’ve had the opportunity to work in the outdoor recreation and retail industry, state government in public health, and the nonprofit association world. I’ve had the honor of serving at GSI for almost 10 years in a few different roles—membership director, vice president of education, workforce & STEM, interim CEO, and now COO. Those opportunities have allowed me to develop a deeper understanding of the business development world and the important role organizations like GSI play in a community.  Although each of my professional experiences has varied greatly, they all have had a few key factors in common—great leaders, cross-sector collaboration and partnership, and deep commitment to supporting and growing our community. These elements motivate me daily to think big and lead big.

What are your aspirations? I aspire to lead meaningful work that creates impact and helps business and community thrive. I’m also committed to being an advocate and mentor for women in the workforce, and most importantly to being a great role model and inspiration for my two kiddos. 

Tell us about your mentor or someone you look to for inspiration. There are so many individuals who have been and continue to be part of my journey and inspire me daily.  It really does take a village. I had the privilege of working for (retired GSI CEO) Rich Hadley and (retired GSI vice president of marketing and membership) Libby Barnes when I started at GSI. They encouraged me to explore the industry of chambers and business development organizations, and I “drank the Kool-Aid.”  Their support has afforded me so many professional and personal opportunities over the past 10 years, and they continue to be great mentors. 

What generational stereotype do you feel strong about?  That Xers are getting lost between boomers and millennials. We may be few. However, we are mighty, and we have the unique opportunity to lead and bridge between boomers and millennials, which is extremely exciting and creates the opportunity for us to learn the best of both.  

Something interesting/random about yourself. During my college years, I spent two summers working in Estes Park, Colo., rock climbing and hiking and a summer working for a white-water rafting company on the Snake and Salmon rivers.


Manny Hochhelmer

Age: 36

Job title/company. Assistant vice president of corporate and external relations, Numerica Credit Union.

Education. B.S. in business management from Colorado State University and M.B.A. from      Whitworth University.


Tell us about your career so far. I started in the financial industry as a bank teller at 21 years of age while finishing college for the nation’s third largest privately held bank, FirstBank in Colorado. I spent a decade with them working my way up from teller to branch administration and regional management. When my wife, Vange, and I moved to Spokane six years ago, I spent a year with Merrill Lynch rounding out my financial industry experience with the investment banking side of the equation. After Merrill, I ventured back into community banking with Numerica Credit Union and have spent five years with them, reporting first to the COO and now to the CEO.

What are your aspirations? I would like to become the president/CEO of a Spokane-based, local credit union or community bank.

Tell us about your mentor, or someone you look to for inspiration. I have been very blessed in life to have had multiple mentors at FirstBank, Merrill Lynch, and now Numerica. One of my mentors once told me that most people are lucky to even have one mentor in their lifetime—and you have and have had multiple. Be very grateful for that and never forget how lucky and blessed you are, and then use that to inspire and mentor others the way you have been blessed. I do want to highlight a specific group of my mentors, the brothers and sisters of my local Spokane Rotary Club No. 21. That is a collective group of men and women that I look up to and receive mentorship on multiple aspects, including marriage, fatherhood, parenting, education, life, career, and community stewardship. At the end of  the day, my No. 1 go-to mentor among all of my treasured and trusted mentors is Jennifer Lehn, Numerica’s COO.

What generational stereotype do you feel strong about? I am from Gen X, and a stereotype that I agree with is that we tend to cherish our work-life balance and yearn for adventure and the outdoors. My wife and I certainly love to travel and spend as much time enjoying God’s great gifts that nature provides. We camp, ski, boat, hike, golf, and simply enjoy the family time out living life and soaking up experiences. 

Something interesting/random about yourself. I was born in Germany, and we immigrated to America when I was 5. I speak both English and German, as I grew up with two amazing cultures and languages.


Shelly Colomb

Age: 34

Job title/company:  Commercial banking team leader at U.S. Bank.        

Education:  B.A. in human resources, with a minor in communications, Eastern Washington University.

Tell us about your career so far.  I would venture to guess I have one of the most unique paths to the role I have at U.S. Bank today. I have held a number of different challenging and rewarding jobs in banking over the last 12 years, from human resources to marketing to private banking to commercial banking. I think the diverse path provides a different perspective and approach, which has been an asset in my current role. At each stop along the way, the opportunity to learn from talented professionals has enabled me to stretch and grow as a person and a professional. One of the best parts of my job is the constant exposure to new and different ideas, while providing solutions and efficiencies that will help my clients grow and expand their businesses. 

What are your aspirations?  To become an influential business leader in this community.  Spokane has so much to offer, and I would love to continue to connect people to their passion, help businesses and owners grow and expand, and make an impact through community work and volunteerism. Spokane is a great city to work, live, and play. It’s an exciting time with the growth, development, and investment that is taking place right now.

Tell us about your mentor, or someone you look to for inspiration.  I have been very lucky to have had so many people to lean on as mentors over my career. The art of the possible, being positive, persistent, and defining your personal brand are values that have been engrained in me throughout my career from mentors and leaders.  

What generational stereotype do you feel strong about? It can be one that you either agree or disagree with. I am on the border between being a millennial and a GenXer.  I get to take the best from both generations and leave the rest behind.

Something interesting/random about yourself.  I did an internship my senior year of college in Sydney, Australia, and while there, I was able to travel the entire eastern coast of Australia. I can’t wait to take my family there in the coming years to show them the area and all of my favorite parts of Australia.


Josh Kerns

Age: 32

Job title/company: County commissioner, Spokane County.

Education: M.B.A., Whitworth University; B.A., business administration, Whitworth University; A.A., Spokane Community College.

Tell us about your career so far. My involvement in the political arena started in 2008, a year that saw engagement from young people across the political spectrum. I had the opportunity to volunteer on several campaigns, as well as intern in Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ office. I was able to create some amazing relationships that year, which led to me working as a senior legislative assistant for the Washington State House of Representatives for six years. 

It was during those six years, splitting time between Olympia and Spokane, where I was able to see firsthand the major role that local government has on everyday life. It’s not always exciting or controversial topics, but you see the impact of the services that we depend on to keep our community moving forward. 

In my role as commissioner, I currently sit on 12 different boards and commissions and have a voice in so many issues that our community is facing. It is an honor to represent Spokane County. Each day, I thank the people of Spokane County for having faith in me, and I continue to remind myself that I am here to do the people’s business while living within the people’s means. 

What are your aspirations? I want to continue to serve the people of my community and keep the promise I made to make Spokane County the best place to live, work, and raise a family. 

Tell us about your mentor, or someone you look to for inspiration. I was honored to work with some of the most amazing leaders in Washington state during my time with the state Legislature. I had the opportunity to work directly under two representatives that gave me a tremendous amount of responsibility and freedom to learn and engage in the political process; that has proven to be an invaluable asset as I serve as a county commissioner. 

What generational stereotype do you feel strong about? The stereotype for my generation that I most disagree with, certainly in our community, is that we are all entitled. I have met so many millennials in our area who are business owners, students, lawyers, doctors, teachers, etc., and they are some of the hardest working people you’ll ever meet. Many of them have paid their way through college working multiple jobs, struggled to make their businesses successful, or proven themselves to be leaders in their fields. We have a bright future in Spokane County. 

Something interesting/random about yourself. In my free time, I enjoy carpentry and building furniture.


Meg Miller

Age:  38 

Job title/company:  Executive director of resort operations, Northern Quest Resort & Casino. 

Education:  Undergraduate degree from University of Washington, graduate degree from Washington State University, and leadership training at Cornell University. 

Tell us about your career so far. Throughout my career, I have been fortunate to learn the value of servant leadership while working in sales and marketing, public relations, strategic planning, operations, and business development. I have been careful in selecting each position I have been fortunate to hold to ensure that they align with my core values, which include integrity, gratitude, and hard work.  

Locally, I have worked at CAAR Construction, Precision, and Wake Up Call Coffee before starting with Northern Quest Resort & Casino in July 2013. My positions at Northern Quest have included director of sales and strategic partnerships, executive director of sales and marketing, and my current role as the executive director of resort operations. In this capacity, I am responsible for 14 food and beverage outlets, a four-star hotel and spa, resort sales, and retail.  

In addition to my work at Northern Quest, I am honored to serve on industry, nonprofit, and civic boards, including the Washington Hospitality Association, executive board of Visit Spokane, as the vice president of the Inland Northwest Community Foundation board, and on the Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery’s funding and development committee.  These activities not only benefit the community, but my involvement fuels my soul.

What are your aspirations? I have always been fascinated by the flexibility and challenges that being an entrepreneur can provide. Each year that I spend improving my business acumen and leadership skills brings me closer to fulfilling this goal. 

Tell us about your mentor, or someone you look to for inspiration. I have two mentors.  My mother, Julie Seipp, taught me the value of education and hard work, setting an example that I still strive to achieve to this day. Professionally, Phil Haugen, the COO of Kalispel Economic Authority, is the person most responsible for my development and growth at Northern Quest. Phil inspires me because he approaches leadership as a coach; he motivates, sets a good example, is patient, honest, and a well-thought representative of the Kalispel Tribe.  

What generational stereotype do you feel strong about? People often believe that youth automatically disqualifies candidates for challenging or important positions. Growing up in a family of educators, I learned as a child that 80 percent of my success came through knowledge; attitude and skill were a relatively small part of the equation. In the business world, I have found that this paradigm changes and that 80 percent of success is attitude based.  If one has a positive attitude, the knowledge and skill required for any challenge is attainable regardless of age.  

Something interesting/random about yourself.  The glasses aren’t a nod to hipsterdom. I am a certifiable geek. When I am not enjoying the lore of Harry Potter and JR Tolkien with my family and friends, I can be found lounging in the house of Ravenclaw reading The Economist, Wall Street Journal, or New York Times. 


Grant Pemberton

Age: 35

Job title/company: General manager, Nicks Handmade Boots.

Education: B.A., Eastern Washington University; M.A., EWU; international M.B.A., Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Business; Fudan University, Shanghai (noncredit program). 

Tell us about your career so far. I spent the first six years of my professional career in China as a university professor. In 2010, I returned to the U.S. to assist Scanivalve Corp., in Liberty Lake with their Chinese business development. After three years, I joined Honeywell Electronic Materials in the Spokane Valley as an analyst in the quality department, where I received my 6Sigma Green Belt.  

I served at Honeywell for three years until I was approached with a unique opportunity to join xCraft, a Coeur d’Alene-based drone company which was highlighted on the ABC show Shark Tank, to help them establish their China operation. We took the product from a prototype state, to on the shelves of BestBuy, in just a six-month period.  

Then, in late October, having become a bit burnt out on technology and China outsourcing, I was approached with an even more unique opportunity: help develop a local handmade boot company—Nicks Handmade Boots.  I currently serve as the general manager.    

What are your aspirations?  On the personal side, I want to be a faithful and loving husband and father to my wife and children. Professionally, I aspire to see Nicks Handmade Boots become a model for on-shoring and the reemergence of craftsmanship in the greater Spokane area.     

Tell us about your mentor, or someone you look to for inspiration. My grandparents come to mind. They were true entrepreneurs in the 50s. My grandmother, Evangeline Pemberton, built a successful business without a college education and still closes the books for that business at the age of 92. She was traveling to places like China in 1980, right after China reopened to the West. My late grandfather, JC Pemberton, was a machinist/inventor and took me under his wing when I was in high school as his apprentice in his “Skunk Works” shop at Felts Field in Spokane. I was privileged to spend so much time with them, which was foundational to forming my view of work and family.

What generational stereotype do you feel strong about? None come to mind.  

Something interesting/random about yourself. I am a bit of an old soul. I like cars, motorhomes, and motorcycles from the late ’70s and early ’80s. Also, I am fluent in Chinese.


Randi Johnson

Age: 35

Job title/company: Managing attorney/owner, Lilac City Law.

Education: J.D., Lewis and Clark Law School; B.A., Florida State University. 

Tell us about your career so far. I started out my career in New York City with a large firm, clocking a billion hours per month. I received amazing training that would have taken me many years in a different environment. In 2009, I moved to Seattle to open a branch office for that firm. From there, I went to a medium-sized firm and also volunteered with a couple of nonprofits. 

We moved here in 2012, with a newborn, because we knew there was so much opportunity for personal, professional, and financial growth in Spokane. For the last decade, I have fought for disabled children, workers, and veterans in their claims for federal disability benefits. In the last year, we have expanded into guiding parents through the estate-planning process to make sure children are raised by the right people if something were to happen to mom and dad. We have also been helping families who are raising children with special needs recognize the urgency around leaving those instructions and documents in place when children are living with unique medical and financial needs.

Most recently, I was selected to join the Leadership Spokane class of 2018. I’m really excited about those upcoming experiences to learn with and from other movers and shakers in our community.

What are your aspirations? I aspire to live long and prosper. But seriously, I aspire to live and grow in all areas in my life by the model of servant leadership. 

Tell us about your mentor, or someone you look to for inspiration. I am inspired by so many in my life and by thought leaders globally. I’d love to share a story of a teacher who inspired me long ago and whose guidance continues to shape my choices. My middle school band director, Mr. Helm, was so committed to his students’ success. Every single day, he asked that we do our very best and taught us how to do that. There was a banner posted above the door frame that read, “Discipline Turns Talent Into Ability.” At the beginning of each class, we would stand, recite the motto, set our intention for our class period, and “pursue excellence,” as Mr. Helm put it. These words are written on my heart. Whenever things get tough, my inner voice reminds me HOW to keep going. 

What generational stereotype do you feel strong about? Honestly, I don’t have an answer for this. I don’t care for stereotypes, I don’t pay any attention to that sort of rubbish, so I just don’t really know any off the top of my head.

Something interesting/random about yourself. For many musical genres, but not all, after hearing a song one or two times, I generally know all the words. It’s a weird thing.


Brandon Rapez-Betty

Age: 36

Job title/company: Customer and community relations manager, Spokane Transit Authority.

Education: Master’s degree in urban and regional planning, Eastern Washington University; B.A. in international studies and Spanish language, University of Idaho.

Tell us about your career so far. I have found great reward working in the public and nonprofit sectors. I’ve had the opportunity to work as a legislative aide in Washington, D.C., as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic, and as a project planner at the city of Spokane. My most formative experience came from my five years at the Downtown Spokane Partnership as the University District project manager, and the last three years in the communications department at STA.  I enjoy being in the mix of those who work to advance the concept of community, as well as those who are willing to explore new ways of doing things. 

What are your aspirations? To see the good in others, to hold true to my values, to learn from adversity, to address conflict with reason, to trust my instincts, and to continually strive to improve the quality of life for my community, my friends and family, and myself. 

Tell us about your mentor, or someone you look to for inspiration. My brain started “buffering” when considering the variety of amazing people in my life who have helped shape my perspectives, skills, and experiences. I’ve had teachers and employers who have encouraged my growth and given me opportunities. My friends and family have supported my goals every step of the way. More than anyone, however, my husband and best friend, Vic Rapez-Betty, inspires me with his commitment to excellence, his kindness, patience, forgiveness, his easygoing sense of humor, and his love. Surrounding oneself with good people is the best first step to success.

What generational stereotype do you feel strong about? I think generational stereotypes are like other social constructs—a way for groups (in this case, generations) to contextualize the unfamiliar. They are similar to horoscopes in that they create a sense of familiarity, but aren’t often reliable. Generational trends, however, are entirely relevant. Using demographic data and studies to identify trends is an important way for communities to adapt to changing needs. In the end, it seems most helpful to approach new people, regardless of generation, with a clean slate and allow them to define themselves by their own words, actions, and presence.  

Something interesting/random about yourself. Last year I completed the full Ironman to prove to myself I could do it, but more so to get the cool logo tattoo. Also, I love artificial banana flavoring.


Latisha Hill

Age: 38

Job title/company: Senior vice president, Avista Development.

Education: B.A., Washington State University; M.A. in urban and regional planning, Eastern Washington University. 

 Tell us about your career so far. I have been blessed with so many opportunities. My passions have always found energy within the work of economic prosperity. Whether it was expressed through grassroots work in neighborhood business corridors, small business development, or supporting the implementation of large-scale community investments like transportation, my career has been a journey cemented in the values of cross-sector collaborations and visions. With more than 125 years of community involvement, Avista has been a great place for me to grow and contribute. 

 What are your aspirations? I see every single day as a gift. I don’t bank on tomorrows. As a result, wherever I am I aspire to contribute in a way that is both relevant and impactful. In my work, in my home, in whatever capacity I serve, my intention is to be fully engaged and to deliver in a way that is worthy of the task and the greater vision. 

Tell us about your mentor, or someone you look to for inspiration. I like to say that I have been raised by a village. My family, teachers, and countless community leaders have inspired me. But my greatest mentor was my grandfather Oscar Shines Sr. A humble giant, he taught me to work hard, to love people, and to grant grace to myself and others. And that no matter what I chose to do, I should do it with integrity and sweat equity. 

What generational stereotype do you feel strong about? I’m not a fan of generational stereotypes. People are people. 

Something interesting/random about yourself. I love a good spontaneous dance party. I have strobe lights under my living room couch, just in case.


Erik Nelson

Age: 31

Job title/company: Broker, Kiemle & Hagood Co.

Education: B.A., Gonzaga University.

Tell us about your career so far. I began my career with Kiemle & Hagood Co. in 2006 while I was a junior at Gonzaga.  I have learned the business through the years from some wonderful mentors in the retail and office industry.  Currently, there is a team of three of us who specialize in commercial real estate sales, leasing, and investments.

What are your aspirations? My aspirations are to continue to grow personally and professionally. I would like to continue to expand our business throughout Spokane and help companies understand how great Spokane is for their employees and lifestyles. On a personal level, I would like to grow my personal real estate portfolio and continue involvement with giving back to the amazing community I call home.

Tell us about your mentor, or someone you look to for inspiration. I have two wonderful mentors that have helped me through the learning curve of commercial real estate. My business partners Mike Livingston and Craig Soehren have not only been great mentors to me professionally, but they have also helped me grow personally. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t have their guidance and friendship. The other mentor in my life has been my dad, Roger Nelson. He has been there throughout my life through the good times and bad times, and I can’t thank him enough for the opportunities he has provided me.

What generational stereotype do you feel strong about? Being a millennial has a bad reputation in the news. I disagree with this thought process of being lazy, changing jobs too frequently, and enjoying avocado toast so much it will cause us not to retire. We may approach life differently than other generations, but that makes us who we are, and the stereotype could not be further from the truth in my experience as a millennial.

Something interesting/random about yourself. I usually get between 65 and 70 rounds of golf in a year.  Growing up in the Southwest, this has always been my passion. I hope to play it late into my life at places around the world.

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