Spokane Journal of Business

Two Spokane executives lead statewide business groups

Cowles heads Roundtable; Senske chairs AWB board

  • Print Article

Seattle-based nonprofit organization Washington Roundtable named Spokane businesswoman Betsy Cowles as its 2018 chairwoman, meaning the boards of two prominent statewide business advocacy organizations now are headed by Spokane business leaders.

Cowles, chairwoman of Spokane-based Cowles Co., was named Washington Roundtable’s new chairwoman. Michael Senske, president and CEO of Pearson Packaging Systems, assumed position of chairman of the Olympia, Wash.-based Association of Washington Business on Oct. 1.

“I think it’s a great example that there’s high-level talent in Spokane,” says Cowles, “and it’s pretty cool that we have two of the large statewide organizations chaired by (Spokane community members).”

Kris Johnson, Olympia, Wash.-based AWB president and CEO, says, “Spokane has been fortunate to have some really strong civic leaders along the way.”

Johnson says he doesn’t recall those two organizations being chaired by people from the same city, let alone Spokane, since he’s been with AWB. Jason Hagey, vice president of communications for AWB, says Johnson has been with the organization since 2010.

Both positions are one-year terms.

Senske replaced Wendy Sancewich, of Seattle-based RSM US LLP, says Johnson.

Cowles joined the Washington Roundtable’s board in 2013, she says. She replaced Kimberly Harris, of Bellevue, Wash.-based Puget Sound Energy Inc., as chairwoman last month.

Washington Roundtable consists of about 50 members who are senior executives of large employers in Washington state, says Cowles. The group meets quarterly, and members include Avista Corp., Boeing Co., and Microsoft Corp., among others.

Washington Roundtable is “a policy advocate for supporting state economic development and vitality,” she says.

The organization emphasizes three main areas of policy: education, economic development, and transportation.

When asked what she’d like to do during her term, she said the organization has identified education as a “huge need.” 

She says, “The jobs of the future really do require postsecondary certification or a degree.”

For work the organization has been doing regarding economic development, Cowles says, “We’re looking across the state and how to build opportunities beyond the I-5 corridor.”

She says there’s a need for economic development to be more regionally focused.

“The Seattle area is a very different economy with very different needs than, say, Spokane, or Okanogan, or Tri-Cities,” she says.

Cowles also is looking forward to the Washington Roundtable’s spring meeting, which will be held in Spokane. “It’s a great opportunity to get some of the West Side CEOs connected with—and actually see what’s going on in—this side of the state.”

Like Cowles, Senske says Washington state is economically diverse.

“There are some rural areas that have not experienced as much economic success during this recovery, but there are others, like Puget Sound, that have achieved extraordinary success,” he says. “We want to make sure people focus on the state as a whole and not just the most populous region. We want to really make sure to create opportunities for business to thrive across the entire state.”

Senske says AWB, which was established in 1904, acts as the state’s chamber of commerce and also the manufacturing and technology association. The organization is “committed to creating a more favorable business environment for the entire state of Washington,” he says.

Something the organization has been pushing for, much so through the efforts of Johnson, is to create a collaborative organization and to change the perception many people may have that AWB is a partisan, right-leaning organization, says Senske.

He says he’s not so much focused on any particular political issue during his term but rather on helping the organization continue to remain relevant and work toward that nonpartisan perception.

“To me, the No. 1 goal is to continue down that path (Johnson) has us on,” he says.

That path involves crafting legislation to create the best business environment while also meeting the needs of Washington citizens, he says.

Cowles became involved with Washington Roundtable because Cowles Co. cares about the state’s prosperity, she asserts.

She’s also involved because, as “a fairly large company in Eastern Washington, by being involved, (Cowles Co.) can shed light on what’s happening (in Eastern Washington), but also we share the same values of most of the other big companies in the state, especially in the realm of education.”

She says she’s “fortunate and very honored” the Washington Roundtable chose her to lead the board.

As chairwoman of Cowles Co., Cowles oversees the insurance, real estate, and television divisions. Subsidiary companies of those divisions include KHQ Inc., Cowles Montana Media, River Park Square, and Centennial Properties Inc. 

Cowles Co. employs 17 individuals. Including subsidiaries, the company has 780 in-state employees, according to information provided by the company. The Journal of Business is operated by a subsidiary of Cowles Co.

Senske says Pearson Packaging Systems was established in 1955 as The R.A. Pearson Co., which is still its current legal name. The company “specializes in the design, production, integration, and service of secondary packaging automation solutions,” its website says.

The company currently has about 235 employees, including both full-time and temporary.

Samantha Peone
  • Samantha Peone

  • Email Samantha Peone
  • Follow RSS feed for Samantha Peone

Reporter Samantha Peone joined the Journal in 2015 as research coordinator before later transitioning into a reporter role. She covers real estate and construction.

Read More

Sign up for our E-mail updates

including the
Morning Edition

Join our list