More than 40 partner organizations worked together to produce Spokane’s new comprehensive economic development strategy
By Pia Hallenberg, Content by Pia
As the Spokane region continues to recover from the challenging COVID years, a solid strategy for economic development is more important than it ever was before. At the core of GSI’s mission is the ability to serve as an economic development driver, creating and supporting long-range economic plans in partnership with local businesses, community organizations, elected officials, and non-profits.
THRIVE Spokane – a five-year economic development plan – was developed by GSI together with Austin-based TIP Strategies, using an exciting collaborative effort that brought together input, needs, and ideas from more than 40 partner organizations. The goal of THRIVE Spokane is to build a robust regional economy for all people by creating a comprehensive economic development strategy (CEDS), yet the method used to create the plan is very different from what’s been done in the past.
“It used to be that we asked the underserved and disenfranchised groups: how do we get you to the table? We don’t do that anymore. Now we bring the table to the groups we want to include,” said Gary Ballew, vice president of economic development at GSI. “So yes, GSI has a role in this plan but it’s not GSI’s plan – it’s truly a community effort.”
For one of the participating partners, Ben Cabildo, who founded the multi-ethnic business association AHANA in 1998, there is one big difference between THRIVE Spokane and many of the other economic development plans he has been a part of.
“This time we included the word ‘equitable’ in the mission statement to make sure that the plan would include all the multi-ethnic communities and other disenfranchised groups,” Cabildo said. “This is a completely different approach. Equitable economic development means that all the folks will be engaged in the process, not just the white business community.”
THRIVE Spokane is built upon four guiding principles. Each principle or pillar has dozens of sub-tasks and examples of actions that may be taken:
Recovery and resilience – will focus on efforts that prepare the region to avoid, withstand, and recover from economic shocks and natural disasters. For example, this could mean coordinating local supply chain events and making sure multi-ethnic businesses become part of the network.
Competitiveness – position the greater Spokane region as a strong competitor to attract talent, capital, and resources for strategic economic development. One example is to pursue the formation of an economic development district through the US Economic Development Administration, to access better funding opportunities and technical assistance.
Connectivity – promotes the interconnectedness of the greater Spokane region and drives cross-sector partnerships to align efforts that advance economic opportunity for all. The focus of this pillar is on creating vibrant and inclusive communities, investing in infrastructure, and identifying and maintaining green spaces.
Equitable growth – seeks to understand, address, and dismantle outcome disparity through intentional initiatives that include all Spokane residents in the benefits of economic growth and prosperity. An example of how to achieve equity could be actively working on removing barriers for smaller businesses that are seeking contracts with public-private partnerships.
THRIVE Spokane is also very intentional about supporting indigenous and LGBTQ+ businesses.
“Equity is important throughout and to make sure we keep it at the center of the work we do, we made it one of the four pillars of the plan,” Ballew said. “How can we help underrepresented small businesses get government contracts? How can we make sure small businesses get what they need to be successful? Equity has to be part of all the work we do.”
Some may have an oversimplified view of economic development simply being the matter of attracting a lot of new businesses as quickly as possible. Multinational companies often do bring in well-paying jobs and opportunities that do not exist here yet, but THRIVE Spokane also has a strong focus on businesses of all sizes that are already located here, and it is inclusive.
“One problem for multi-ethnic businesses is the lack of generational wealth. These businesses are very small and fragile because they just don’t have money in the family,” Cabildo said. “There is also a lack of generational knowledge base with many ethnic businesses. They don’t have resources they can go to when they need help to get a business started.”
Cabildo, who’s been involved in the Spokane businesses milieu for more than 30 years, said GSI never previously reached out to ethnic businesses and that was one reason why he founded AHANA.
“This is a very different approach and it’s very genuine – THRIVE Spokane is an important plan for the future,“ Cabildo said. “I am very excited to have been part of this work.”
For Ballew, it’s all about reaching the communities that have not been represented in previous economic development plans.
“We want to understand what people here are working on, especially in our communities of color and the geographically isolated communities,” Ballew said. “There is great value in diversity and inclusivity.”
Outreach will not stop just because THRIVE Spokane is finalized. It’s an ongoing effort throughout the implementation phase.
“There is still work to do in reaching out to underrepresented communities,” Ballew said, adding that he recognizes some groups are still missing from the economic development table. “We are hoping to incorporate some of the great work being done by others in our community, and we understand that developing relationships and growing trust will take time.”
The completion of THRIVE Spokane was celebrated at a great community event in June, the next big step is implementation.
“The plan has officially been launched,” said Joey Gunning, strategic growth manager of GSI. “Now the real work begins. Community outreach will continue as we work to move the needle on several big issues facing our region such as workforce trends, connecting supply chains to key sectors, transportation and infrastructure access, housing availability, and more.” Gunning will be working with community members over the next five years to implement the plan.
Ginger Ewing, who’s the executive director of Terrain, a nonprofit dedicated to stimulating a vibrant and inclusive arts environment through shows, fairs, and events, said her participation in THRIVE Spokane is her first endeavor into regional economic development.
“I feel like Gary Ballew is a game-changer for GSI,” Ewing said. “He was very intentional about including all people and building those relationships. When you haven’t reached out to certain groups of people ever – then it’s going to take some time for them to come around.”
Ewing said there is room for more community participation in THRIVE and she hopes the plan generates excitement and engagement.
“Implementation is the elephant in the room. It’s going to take funding and it’s going to take strong community partners,” Ewing said. “I’m optimistically holding my breath. It’s an ambitious plan. If we can make this happen, we will all be so much better off than we are today.”
For more information about THRIVE Spokane visit thrivespokane.org.
*The GSI Connect Magazine is published in partnership with the Spokane Journal of Business. To read the 2022-2023 edition of the magazine view the digital publication here or contact us to pick up your copies today.