By Pia Hallenberg
As the Spokane region continues its climb out of COVID recovery, it’s becoming clear that here – just like everywhere else – the pandemic has changed a lot of things. Work patterns changed: many never returned to the offices they occupied before the pandemic, and others stopped working altogether. The roles of core community organizations like Greater Spokane Inc. (GSI) also shifted.
Traditionally, the work of GSI is focused on economic development, and GSI is also the advocacy arm for business development, education, and talent retention. In partnership with the Department of Commerce, GSI represents businesses in Spokane County. Now, there is more.
“Coming out of COVID, there was an additional expectation of us meeting more needs of our community,” said Lisa Poplawski Lewis, GSI Vice President of Development and Partnerships, “and we knew the needs of our community were a little different now than five years ago.”
Addressing these needs led to the launch of Believe Spokane, a five-year campaign laser-focused on growth, equity, and retaining the agility of the Spokane region to ensure a continued upward trajectory for the local economy.
Believe Spokane is a bold five-year plan that reaches far beyond the usual work of GSI, and to be sustainable, it needed a funding source rooted in the community.
“The goal was initially to try and raise $3 million in pledges to cover the next five years,” Lewis said. “We know we have work to do. If we raise more than that, we can accelerate that work.”
At the end of the first quarter of this year, Believe Spokane had raised just over $3 million in pledges from local businesses to space across the entirety of the campaign.
“The community totally stepped up and supported us,” Lewis said, adding that she went ‘hot and heavy’ after the pledges early on. “I really wanted to make that happen, and it feels really good to say we met that $3 million goal.” Lewis added that independent funding for Believe Spokane is critical because government grants and other external sources come and go.
“We want this to be sustainable here in Spokane, with our business partners who have pledged to support us,” Lewis said. “We check in with them, we ask them if we are on the right track – this is a very collaborative undertaking.”
Believe Spokane has two focus areas: economic development and talent attraction and retention.
In the area of economic development, the goal is to create 5,000 jobs and $1 billion in new capital investment, establish an opportunity fund that can be used to respond to unique growth opportunities, increase the revenues for 50 underrepresented businesses by 25 percent in year one, and 50 percent in the second year, as well as connect 100 underrepresented companies with resources that can help them grow and prosper.
On the talent attraction and retention side, the goal is to establish community partnerships that can provide 300 internships for post-secondary students, provide upskill training and support for 100 underserved businesses, connect 5,000 students with a career pathway experience and establish additional business and education partnerships to develop 30 percent more career pathways to post-secondary education and employment.
Among many donors, Providence pledged its support of Believe Spokane early on.
“We have a longstanding partnership with GSI, and it was easy for us to get behind Believe Spokane,” said Joel Gilbertson, CEO of Providence and co-chair of Believe Spokane. “It is the right time for an initiative like this, and we share the collective belief that we need to think of what comes next.”
He added that the pandemic brought a tremendous disruption of talent supply, not just in health care but everywhere.
“These challenges are bigger than what we can handle on our own,” Gilbertson said. “The pandemic underscored that not everyone felt like they had a place in our community. It further exposed systemic societal challenges, like homelessness.”
He added that equity in economic development is especially important in the future.
“It’s the old saying about how rising all the boats together benefits all of us,” Gilbertson said. “Are there strong schools? Is housing available and affordable? Can individuals see a place for themselves in our community – we need to work on all that.”
Gilbertson’s co-chair, Carla Cicero, President and CEO of Spokane Valley-based Numerica Credit Union, agrees.
“Every business in our community benefits from the work that GSI does, no matter how big or small the business is,” Cicero said. “Believe Spokane is about being intentional and ensuring all businesses continue to benefit from GSI’s work.”
Cicero added that raising $3 million is just the beginning; ongoing funding is needed to continue this vital work.
“I see Believe Spokane as a call to action,” Cicero said. “I want to encourage all business leaders to learn more about the campaign and how they can partner with GSI.”
Visit BelieveSpokane.com to learn more.