23 People of Influence in 2023
Journal recognizes Inland Northwest professionals making a profound impact
Staff ReportFebruary 2nd, 2023
Joel Barbour, 36
Owner and creative director, The Great PNW
Education: Associate degree in graphic design from Spokane Falls Community College
Advice for others: “Be good to people and follow your passion. The money figures itself out.”
Influential person: Ramsey Pruchnic, co-owner of The Great PNW, president of Spokane-based marketing company Strategy Labs.
Favorite quote: “Money often costs too much.”—Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Joel Barbour launched Pacific Northwest-themed apparel brand The Great PNW via a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign in 2012. Now, the Spokane-based apparel company brings in over $1 million in annual revenue, has a store in River Park Square, and is opening an additional store in Kendall Yards this week. In August, Barbour launched snacks and beverages company PNW Provisions LLC with fellow Spokane entrepreneur Pete Taylor, co-founder of Spiceology. Prior to opening the downtown store, products were sold primarily online from The Great PNW’s headquarters in the East Central neighborhood. Barbour says the company was conceived when he was working in marketing and began designing skateboards and apparel for friends who owned skate shops.
Chris Batten, 54
Owner, RenCorp Realty LLC
Education: Associate degree in real estate management, Spokane Falls Community College; Certified Commercial Investment Member designation
Organization: RenCorp Realty LLC owner, Downtown Spokane Partnership board chair.
Personal motto: “You can be right, or you can be dead right, and at the end of the day, you have to find common ground. That’s important in business to find the compromise and be able to work with people.”
Advice to others: “Be honest. If you do that, then everything else will fall in line.”
Chris Batten says he’s seen some improvements in downtown Spokane compared to a year ago in his role as board chair of Downtown Spokane Partnership, which manages the Downtown Business Improvement District. But there’s still plenty to do to address cleanliness and safety, he adds.
Batten also owns RenCorp Realty LLC, a 22-year-old Spokane-based real estate company that manages about 825,000 square feet of commercial real estate.
He says being truthful is important to career success and helps manage expectations. Being honest, first and foremost, is one of the most important things in business, he adds. —Erica Bullock
Carla Cicero, 62
President and CEO of Numerica Credit Union
Education: University of Phoenix, MBA from the University of Wisconsin
Favorite quote: “Everything you ever wanted is on the other side of fear.”
Hometown: Los Angeles, California
Stephanie Curran, 55
CEO, Spokane Public Facilities District
Hometown: Los Angeles, California.
Education: Master’s degree in organizational communication and leadership from Gonzaga University.
Advice for others: “Always bet on yourself and success will find you.”
Key to career success: Invest in yourself and vocalize your needs.
In five years as CEO of Spokane Public Facilities District, Stephanie Curran has led the organization through dramatic growth. After overseeing the $53 million Podium Powered by STCU indoor sports facility, she now is working with Spokane Public Schools to operate and maintain the $31 million-plus outdoor stadium project, which is under construction. Both developments in the North Bank area will be key drivers of sports-related travel to Spokane, boosting the city’s economic recovery from the pandemic.
The PFD also operates and maintains the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena, at 720 W. Mallon; the Spokane Convention Center, at 334 W. Spokane Falls Blvd.; and the adjacent First Interstate Center for the Arts. —E.B.
Sergio de Leon, 53
Co-owner, De Leon Foods Inc. and Northwest Freight Handlers Inc.
Hometown: San Juan, Texas
Education: GED diploma
Favorite quote: “Success is the result of perfection, hard work, learning form failure, loyalty to those from whom you work, and persistence.” –Gen. Colin Powell
Sergio de Leon’s secret recipe for success is hard work and dogged persistence. His two Spokane companies, Northwest Freight Handlers Inc. and De Leon Foods Inc., have been in business for 28 and 18 years, respectively, and have grown to have 140 employees combined.
De Leon Foods survived the pandemic-related restrictions that shuttered the doors of its three restaurants through the continued operation of its two grocery stores and its tortilla manufacturing facility.
De Leon says staying humble and grateful has helped him in business, and he’d like to pass that along to the next generation of the family-run business. He adds that it’s okay to fail but it’s important to fail fast, learn quickly, and adapt. —E.B.
Kiantha Duncan, 48
President of Spokane NAACP
Education: Antioch University.
Hometown: Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Advice for others: “Prepare for the day as it will not always be night.”
Inspiration: The lives and experiences of people served.
Kiantha Duncan has been president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP since December of 2020. In her first year, Duncan grew the organization membership by 35%.
She writes a weekly advice column, “Dear Kiantha,” for the Spokesman-Review. She also previously wrote for the Black Lens newspaper and penned a column for the Coeur d’Alene Living magazine titled “Soulful Living.”
Duncan says her greatest influences have been the people she has served. She studied transformative leadership at Antioch University and says that her lived experiences are what have shaped her as a leader to better understand the world around her and the value in learning from one another. —Karina Elias
Ezra Eckhardt, 52
President and CEO of STCU
Education: U.S. Military Academy at West Point, MBA from Gonzaga University
Advice for others: “A lot of things we are wrestling with don’t have simple and straightforward answers. Don’t take no for an answer.”
Ginger Ewing, 44
Executive director and co-founder of Terrain Programs
Education: Bachelor’s in history from Whitworth University
Hometown: Cheney, Washington
Favorite quote: “There is no revolution without art.” –Kendrick Sampson
Advice for others: “You need a collective group of people to do the work that you are passionate about.”
Ginger Ewing is the executive director and co-founder of Terrain Programs, a Spokane nonprofit focused on ensuring artists and culture creators thrive in the Inland Northwest. After a two-year hiatus, the Terrain event, the Terrain Bazaar, a market featuring hundreds of local artists, and other programs returned in full in 2022.
Ewing says she knew from an early age that she was meant to do something rooted in community. For her, art is a resource and a tool that allows her to create spaces where all people feel welcomed, amplify their voices, and connect with each other.
Ewing draws inspiration from people around her who are passionate about the work they do and are willing to roll up their sleeves to accomplish it.
Michelle Hege, 53
President and CEO of DH
Hometown: Born in San Diego, raised in Spokane
Education: Bachelor of Arts from Whitman College, in Walla Walla, Washington; Master of Science in organizational communications from Eastern Washington University; public relations credential from Public Relations Society of America
Biggest career influencers: Cher and Jim Desautel, founders of DH. “Cher and Jim really shaped my early business experience and taught me so much. I really would credit them with a lot of my success.”
Advice for others: “Our field requires people who have a growth mindset and want to be lifelong learners. You have to be curious.”
Goals for using influence: “My goal as a communicator and a leader in a communications agency is to work on campaigns and programs that make the world a better place and that help people.”
As the leader of Spokane-based communications agency DH, Michelle Hege is making her mark on the community.
Hege’s team at DH has grown following the 2022 acquisition of Seattle-based Nyhus Communications LLC. Under her leadership, the company has worked with a diverse list of clients, including Washington state Department of Health, Association of Washington Business, Gonzaga University, and Itron Inc.
Some of the agency’s most notable work, she says, came during the pandemic, when DH partnered with other business groups to create the “Spread Kindness, Not COVID-19” campaign to help support Spokane County businesses and residents. The campaign was done pro bono, as a way of giving back to the community. —Dylan Harris
Luc Jasmin III, 37
Co-owner of Parkview Early Learning Center, Co-owner of The Jasmin Group
Hometown: “Boston area”
Education: Bachelor’s degree in elementary education with an emphasis on math from Eastern Nazarene College, in Quincy, Massachusetts
Biggest career influencers: His parents. “I’ve always seen them work hard. They’ve always treated people with the most respect in the world, and even when they didn’t have much, they’re always looking out for other people.”
Advice for others: “Just go. … Failure and learning opportunities are inevitable. You can’t keep on trying and wait until stuff is perfect, because it’s never going to happen.”
Goal for using influence: “At the end of the day, we’re all in this together, and if we’re truly together, then we can do some big things.”
Favorite quote: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
Spokane entrepreneur and community leader Luc Jasmin III advocates for local children and families in need of child care, food, community programs, and other essential services.
In addition to owning his own center, Jasmin co-founded the Washington Childcare Centers Association to assist early learning centers and improve child care access. Jasmin also co-founded Northeast Youth & Family Services to fight food insecurity, provide new after-school opportunities, supply clothes, and address other needs. His work caught the eye of Gov. Jay Inslee’s office, which recently named him Regional Outreach representative for Eastern Washington. —D.H.
Larry Krauter, 57
CEO of Spokane International Airport, Felts Field, and Airport Business Park
Organization: First past chair of American Association of Airport Executives
Hometown: Born in Hollywood, Florida, raised in Ohio
Education: Bachelor’s degree in aviation from Ohio State University; certified planner through American Institute of Certified Planners; accredited airport executive through American Association of Airport Executives; Construction Specifications Institute certification; pilot rating for single-engine land and seaplanes.
Favorite quote: “Never, never, never give up.”—Winston Churchill
As CEO of Spokane Airports, Larry Krauter is at the helm of one of the Spokane region’s most vital economic catalysts. In 2022, the airport had a passenger total of just under 4 million people, approaching pre-pandemic levels with the third highest passenger total in the airport’s history.
The massive Terminal Remodeling & Expansion, or TREX, project is underway, and it is already adding to the airport’s economic impact just through the construction and engineering industries, says Krauter, who is currently serving as the first past chair of American Association of Airport Executives. —D.H.
Mary Kuney, 58
Spokane County Commissioner
Education: Gonzaga University
Favorite phrase: “Have courage and be kind.”
Inspiration: Helping improve the community for the next generation.
Mary Kuney has been the District 4 Spokane County Commissioner for the past five years and was elected its chairwoman earlier this year. Since being elected to the Board of Commissioners, Kuney has been an active member of the Washington State Association of Counties. Last November, she was elected as 116th president of the association.
Kuney was previously the chief deputy auditor for Spokane County, which she says prepared her to analyze potential consequences of decisions faced by the current board of commissioners.
As a lifelong Spokanite and mother of two, Kuney says she is inspired to make the community a better place for her children and for future generations. —K.E.
Wade Larson, 53
Chief human resources officer, Wagstaff Inc.
Hometown: Born in Rexburg, Idaho
Education: Bachelor’s degree in political science from Brigham Young University; MBA in human resources and marketing from Willamette University, in Salem, Oregon; doctorate in management with an emphasis in organizational leadership from University of Phoenix
Biggest career influencer: His father, Roy Larson. “The older you get, the more like your parents you become.”
Advice for others: “Everyone can be a leader—it’s not a position, it’s a mindset.” “Make a decision and just go for it. You’re going to make mistakes, and you learn from your mistakes.”
Goal for using influence: “Employers are depending on K-12 to graduate workforce-ready students. I’m on a mission to make that happen.”
Wade Larson has been instrumental in helping employers navigate the pandemic-accelerated labor shortage through his business and leadership consulting, the classes he teaches at three Inland Northwest universities, speeches he has delivered in numerous forums, and the three books he has authored. While he believes the workforce crisis will be a multigenerational problem, he plans to continue lending his expertise to the Spokane business community and beyond. —D.H.
Ann Long, 55
Co-founder, Burbity Workspaces LLC
Hometown: Farmington, New Mexico
Personal motto: “Every Day is a school day.”
Advice for others: “Build a tribe of like-minded people and be intentional about it.”
Ann Long’s impeccable timing helped launch a new coworking facility in Liberty Lake right before pandemic-related shutdowns upended office life for many companies. Since 2020, Long has opened three facilities in Spokane County and manages about 30,000 square feet of coworking space through Burbity Workspaces LLC. The company also is a burgeoning networking hub for entrepreneurs and recently hosted the Founders Live 99-second pitch competition at the Sullivan Valley Commons office complex.
Long says she is always on the lookout for learning opportunities. “We sometimes get so focused on one path,” she says. “If you don’t look outside of that, you don’t know what you’re missing.” —E.B.
Katie MacKay, 43
Vice president, MacKay Manufacturing Inc.
Education: West Valley High School
Advice to others: “You don’t have to knock it out of the park every time, it just has to be a little bit better.”
Influence in career: Chris Wood, lean business consultant.
Apart from a brief stint in construction, Katie MacKay has been working since she was a teen at the MacKay Manufacturing Inc. tool and instrument manufacturing facility her family owns. From front-office filing, MacKay worked her way through a couple of departments, learning to supervise workers along the way. She says she’s adopted a saying from lean business consultant Chris Wood: “50% today is okay.” MacKay says she plans slow, steady growth for MacKay Manufacturing, which currently has 175 employees. “I want to be a stable place where other people can spend their career,” she says. Last year, MacKay Manufacturing added a mezzanine to its main facility, began renovating a building it acquired in 2021, and bought another building; at the time, MacKay said she planned to ultimately purchase all six of the buildings that share a city block with MacKay Manufacturing, which is headquartered at 10011 E. Montgomery. —V.T.
Thayne McCulloh, 58
President of Gonzaga University
Education: Bachelor’s degree from Gonzaga University, doctorate in experimental sociology from Oxford University
Favorite phrase: “Don’t limit the horizon of your imagination.”
Advice for others: There is always more to learn. People always have something to offer and to teach.
Thayne McCulloh has been the 26th president of Gonzaga University for the past 12 years, and the first non-Jesuit to lead the school in its history. Since the start of his tenure, more than $200 million in new construction and campus improvements have been completed.
Born in Los Angeles and raised in Seattle, McCulloh says he’s had the privilege of learning from many inspirational people who have helped him approach his work with humility and an awareness that there is always more to learn. McCulloh says he draws inspiration from the purpose for which universities and educational institutions exist—helping people find their passion and capacity. —K.E.
Melissa Murphy, 41
Owner, designated broker, Prime Real Estate Group
Education: Master’s degree in marketing from Gonzaga University
Favorite quote: “People will forget what you say. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.” –Maya Angelou
Melissa Murphy began her career as a Realtor for a national brokerage company and struck out on her own to launch Prime Real Estate Group in 2012. After nearly 11 years in business, the successful independent brokerage owner has become known in the region as an influential market leader who offers real estate knowledge and insights to the greater community.
Prime is headquartered in Spokane and also operates an office in Coeur d’Alene. Since 2020, the company has expanded to markets in Boise, Idaho, and in Tennessee. Murphy also co-owns full-service property management company, One Property Management, which handles about 90 single-family and multifamily living units. —E.B.
Heather Stratford, 50
Founder, Drip7 Inc.
Hometown: Burnt Hills, New York
Education: Brigham Young University, Thunderbird School of Global Management
Favorite quote: “You cannot discover new oceans unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.”
Heather Stratford’s personal life is full of adventurous activities, including sailing, water-skiing, snow-skiing, and riding motorcycles. That thrill seeking is in stark contrast to her role as CEO and founder of Drip7 Inc., where she works to reduce the risks people take online through a gamified cybersecurity training platform.
Drip7 is a subscription-based microlearning cybersecurity and compliance training software platform company headquartered in Spokane. Stratford also recently partnered with Google Cloud, cybersecurity company Cyderes; the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and others on the inaugural Inland Northwest Cyber Security Conference last November. —E.B.
Jordan Tampien, 38
Co-owner, 4 Degrees Real Estate.
Hometown: Moses Lake, Washington
Education: Master’s degree in business administration, and a law degree, both from Gonzaga University.
Personal motto: “We don’t dream, we plan.”
Advice he’d give others: “Think bigger.”
Jordan Tampien, co-founder of Spokane-based 4 Degrees Real Estate, says he has big goals for the city and aspires to build a skyscraper here in the future, following successes in converting older commercial properties into revenue-generating multifamily complexes and other businesses. He has helped revitalize forgotten neighborhoods with mixed-use properties, restaurants, and fitness centers.
Tampien says he often relies on a network of relationships he’s cultivated to help him see an idea’s greatest potential.
He describes his visions for projects as the foundations for action plans rather than as mere dreams. “I’ve found that the most limiting factor to what I could do, was me,” he says. —E.B.
Vanessa Waldref, 43
U.S. Attorney for Eastern Washington
Education: Georgetown University
Inspiration: Pamela DeRusha, attorney, former chief civil attorney for the office of the U.S. Attorney for Eastern Washington.
Favorite quote: “It is amazing what you can accomplish when you do not care who gets the credit.”—U.S. President Harry S. Truman.
Vanessa Waldref became the first woman to hold the title of U.S. Attorney for Eastern Washington in October 2021. Waldref says one of her top priorities is to resolve inefficiencies in communication and collaboration between law enforcement and government agencies.
She grew up in Spokane and attended Georgetown University, in Washington, D.C., for her bachelor’s and law degrees, while volunteering and interning for organizations that helped low-income and homeless people. She returned here to work for a couple of law firms before she became assistant U.S. attorney for the district. —V.T.
Alex Jackson, 51
Chief executive for the Inland Northwest Region for MultiCare Health System
Education: Indiana University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Advice for others: “Look for a way to make an impact with a team.”
Hometown: Missoula, Montana
Marcelo Morales, 53
Founder of Allele Diagnostics Inc. and A4Ventures LLC and co-founder of Amend Health Inc.
Education: McMaster University, MBA from University of Toronto.
Advice for others: “In tumultuous periods like this, try to be steady and not panic.”
Hometown: Toronto, Ontario
Shelby Stokoe, 45
Chief financial officer for the Inland Northwest Washington service area of Providence
Education: Gonzaga University
Favorite quote: “What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?” —Robert H. Schuller