Spokane Inc.

by Doug Nadvornick & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & S & lt;/span & pokane's two major economic development agencies -- the Spokane Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Spokane Area Economic Development Council (EDC) -- have formally integrated. President Rich Hadley says the new organization will call itself Greater Spokane Incorporated.

"This is a good time to do this while the economy is strong," Hadley says. "This isn't like Momentum [Spokane's economic development initiative in the 1990s] when the area was desperate" for revitalization.

Hadley says the integration was first proposed three years ago by members of the boards of directors of both organizations.

"Both of us had been looking at how we could create more regional prosperity," he says. "How could we recruit better? How could we expand start-ups? How could we improve the way we tie schools to the workforce? How could we advocate for the region in a more unified way?"

Since then, the two companies have worked together on projects, even sharing staff. But Hadley says formal integration talks didn't become serious until last fall when the EDC's top two executives, Jon Eliassen and Theresa Sanders, resigned.

Hadley and his staff have been working the past few months to combine employees, to put together a new board of directors and to ask members of both organizations to increase their contributions to fund the new agency.

"We have serious issues - building and retaining a quality workforce, for example - where our efforts have been fragmented," says Tom Fritz, this year's EDC board chairman and CEO of Inland Northwest Health Services.

"When companies we're recruiting ask if we have 200 people to help them fill their jobs, we sometimes have to say no. This will improve our clout when we ask for permission to offer courses in high-demand areas, so we can pump out 500 graduates in a short amount of time."

Greater Spokane Incorporated will have a $3.3 million budget initially, although Hadley says a campaign to raise another $600,000 by September is underway. Ultimately he hopes the new organization can boost its budget to about $5 million to compete with economic development agencies in similar-sized communities in the region.

The new agency will have five divisions: economic development, public policy, business resources, workplace development and marketing and communications.