by Cara Gardner

The Bus Project -- SPOKANE -- A few months ago, a group of concerned young citizens decided to buy a used bus and travel the state, volunteering on the Democratic candidates' campaigns that would change the Republican-controlled Washington state Senate. It's called the Bus Project, and this weekend, it'll be rolling into Spokane.

"It started in Clark County," explains Benjamin Lawver, a Bus Project coordinator. "It's mostly a bunch of young professionals. There's an Oregon Bus Project, which started two years ago, and the founder gave a little speech [to us], and we looked around and said, 'We can do this.'"

Lawver says the group researched all the candidates running for office in the state and targeted the competitive races, where the Democrats needed the most help. Then they raised enough money to buy a bus.

"Initially it was a struggle to convince people that we weren't just crazy kids that wanted a bunch of money," Lawver says. The group ended up with an old fire district bus that used to transport cadets to their training. The Bus Project has brought about 150 volunteers into targeted districts, and contacted almost 7,500 voters.

"We're focusing on the State Senate," Lawver says. "We feel a lot of the bad policies that came out of Olympia in the past few years are because of a Republican-controlled State Senate. It's better for college education and health care to have a Democratic Senate."

This Saturday, Sept. 4, at 3:45 pm, and Sunday, Sept. 5, at 10:30 am, the Bus Project will meet at Lewis and Clark High School in Spokane.

Call: 998-4870

Selling the Region -- SPOKANE -- Despite the traditional "recruitment rivalry" between the economic development councils throughout North Idaho and Eastern Washington, nine of them have joined together to form the Inland Northwest Economic Alliance (INEA), a coalition of recruiters led by company recruitment guru Bob Potter, who led Coeur d'Alene's business recruitment outfit, JobsPlus, for 15 years. The INEA is focusing on a more inclusive definition of recruitment that sees areas like Sandpoint, Coeur d'Alene, Hayden, Post Falls, Spokane and Spokane Valley as part of a region rather than their own silo communities. Jon Eliassen, executive president and CEO of the Spokane Area EDC, says the INEA has been up and operating since the beginning of April.

"It leverages all the economic development councils throughout the region," Eliassen explains, adding that although each separate economic development council will continue to work on bringing companies into their specific communities, the INEA will allow the organizations to team up in ways that boost the region as a whole.

"I think the relationships [between regional EDCs] are quite good," Eliassen says. "I don't think there are turf wars. That being said, there will be times when there is friendly competition over [which area] to locate a company. At the end of the day, we need to work together to bring people to a region."

Eliassen says that the INEA won't duplicate the work of other organizations, either. For instance, Mayor Jim West announced his intention to promote economic development through a team of his own at the city.

"I don't view that as a competitor in terms of recruiting," Eliassen says. "The mayor will let [EDCs] do the road work, if you will, but they want to be involved in locating businesses. We can all work to leverage and not duplicate. It's imperative."

Though the INEA is a collaborative effort, without Bob Potter leading the recruitment, it's not clear whether the alliance would thrive.

"He's does a lot of mentoring in sales, and by having people travel with him, they're able to learn with him," Eliassen says, noting that convincing a company to relocate to a new region is a game of sales, which means it requires relationship building -- only in this industry, the sale can take years.

"It may take three years to get a company to relocate, so I think [Potter] has developed positive contacts," Eliassen explains. "He's got a number of companies interested in relocating to the region."

Correction -- In last week's Back to College section, we posted incorrect contact information for the University of Phoenix. The correct information is: 327 2443;; 1330 N. Washington Street, Spokane.

Publication date: 09/02/04

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