I’ve had the great pleasure of working for Avista, a Spokane energy provider that was founded in 1889 (125 years ago). Avista places significant value on community stewardship and creating healthy, vibrant communities through its economic development efforts. I’m a business guy, having worked for both large and small companies throughout my 30+ year career. I have been an entrepreneur three times over, and I have incredible passion for everything entrepreneurship – encouraging, supporting, and advocating for entrepreneurs regardless of business size, industry, or otherwise. For me, helping create successful and resilient businesses is key, and every job created is important for the local and regional economy. If a company grows and scales, even better. Avista’s and my efforts are aligned – business development and job creation leads to a healthier community, which is good for all.
In 2011, three years into the Great Recession, I was challenged by Roger Woodworth, Avista’s Chief Strategy Officer and a senior executive of our company, to explore the idea of creating entrepreneurship education programs throughout our three-state service territory as a means of “restoring hope” in the communities we serve by helping to jumpstart business development and job creation. Let’s face it, our nation’s unemployment rate was at record levels, people were unable to find living wage jobs, and many turned toward self-employment as their strategy for creating a living wage. The recession created an incredible opportunity for entrepreneurship, launching of new businesses, and communities focusing on creating a system for educating and supporting these individuals and businesses.
Let’s start with some statistics — At the national level, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that 96% of all businesses in the United States are “small business”, employing fewer than 50 individuals. At the local level, the City of Spokane business licenses tell an interesting story. Up until 2013, approximately 3,000 first-time business licenses were being issued annually. What’s staggering is that Spokane was losing the same number of businesses each year (see chart below). This data indicates that there are a significant number of businesses in our own community that could remain solvent and even be successful if they had access to necessary support resources.
An interesting statistic from the Kauffman Foundation Index of Entrepreneurial Activity found that, as of 2012, the rate of business creation was 300 per population of 100,000 people per month. In 2013, the City of Spokane had a population of approximately 210,000 and Spokane County’s population was 480,000. That would translate into 7,500 new business starts in the City of Spokane on an annual basis and over 17,200 business starts annually county-wide. Our region continues to have a tremendous opportunity to encourage and support the launching of new businesses and helping them to be successful, scalable, and sustainable.