Nation/World

Putting The Future In Focus New Century Passes Key Milestone, Gears Up For Implementation Phase

What would you think of an Inland Northwest in which salaries were universally higher, poverty was eradicated, everyone felt safe from crime and children went to school 220 days a year?

What if Spokane had a north-south freeway, or a beltway? Or a taxing climate that business people felt was fair and equitable, yet made the need for school levy elections obsolete?

What if businesses in Spokane and Kootenai Counties regarded it as their duty to spend time and money supporting the development of child care centers, and improving neighborhoods?

That’s the world participants in the New Century planning process have mapped out for the communities in our region.

In a special insert in today’s Spokesman-Review, the full text of that plan is presented. A town hall meeting Tuesday from 7 to 9 p.m. at Spokane Community College’s Student Lair will offer one more opportunity for citizens to offer their opinions of what should or shouldn’t be in that plan.

From there, the intent is that this document will guide the economic and community development of Spokane and Kootenai Counties over the next five years, putting the region on a path to realize some very lofty ambitions by the year 2015.

To this point, it’s all so much rhetoric.

The grand visions offered by the New Century Plan for Spokane in 2015 are, for the most part, statements of the obvious: A region with comprehensive and effective educational opportunities, a high quality of life, a healthy and efficient infrastructure, economic competitiveness on a global basis, efficient and responsive government and a visionary civic leadership.

Who isn’t in favor of any of that?

Putting it all down on paper was one thing. But achieving it? Clearly, the more difficult of the two tasks will begin after Tuesday’s town meeting.

“What you are really asking,” says Spokane Chamber of Commerce President Rich Hadley, “is, ‘Is all this going to go anywhere?”’

Momentum paved the way

The roots of the New Century planning concept go back to the Momentum organization that was a crucial element of Spokane’s economic revival in the latter half of the 1980s. Momentum is a private group of community business leaders who got together, developed a set of priorities to foster economic development, and then put up the money to fund the whole process.

Momentum was founded in 1986 on a five-year plan. Its success was the impetus for reincarnating the group into a second five-year plan, but as a new generation of Momentum leaders emerged over the past couple years, the organization began rethinking its mission and place in the context of the overall community.

As part of that process, Momentum hired The Pace Group, a Mississippi-based consulting organization, to study Spokane and present findings of the city’s relative standing among cities of similar size in the increasingly competitive economic development climate. The Pace Report offered a detailed evaluation of what Spokane needed to do to keep from slipping to a second-rate city in the fight to recruit and retain companies here.

Stacey Cowles, publisher of The Spokesman-Review, a Momentum leader and co-chair of the New Century Steering Committee, says he became convinced Spokane needed to broaden the base of its economic development planning beyond groups like Momentum when he saw the Pace Report’s warnings about the relatively high level of poverty in Spokane. The report projected dire consequences if that issue was not addressed.

So groups like Momentum, the Spokane Area Economic Development Council, the Spokane Area Chamber of Commerce and the Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce decided to join with school districts, neighborhood groups, business associations, local governments and civic organizations in developing a broad-based long-range blueprint built on a community consensus of what Spokane should one day be.

The New Century Task Force was formed, and it hired Florida-based consultant Henry Luke to guide the process.

In January, 350 “stakeholders” representing all walks of Spokane life gathered to set 10 priority issues for the community. Benchmarks for measuring progress in achieving the plan’s goals were set, and a 150-person task force met in a series of meetings to write “vision statements” and formulate strategies for achieving those visions.

Now, it’s time to implement the plan.

Success hinges on response

As that implementation takes place, Hadley and Tom Stevenson, who along with Cowles is a New Century Steering Committee co-chair, are emphatic about what they don’t want the New Century effort to become.

“The New Century plan isn’t meant to be a group,” says Hadley. “It isn’t a replacement for Momentum or the City Council. It’s meant to be a road map. It’s a plan that carries a vision for the community and sets strategies and benchmarks and attracts implementing organizations that by and large voluntarily will come forward and say, ‘we are going to do that.”’

Hadley and Stevenson agree that many of the items in the plan are already on the agendas of local groups and agencies. Certainly, for example, many of the items on the plan’s K-12 education list are already priorities with local school districts.

But the value of putting them in a plan that carries the weight of community consensus is two-fold, they say.

First, “The people in education are not looking at just the education strategies,” Hadley says. “Now they are looking at quality of life issues, and business issues, and infrastructure issues. And the people in business are not looking at just the economic development strategies.

“This process helps broaden the horizons of organizations to see they are part of a bigger plan for the overall good of the community. And see they need to collaborate with groups they haven’t traditionally worked with in order to move the community forward.”

Also, inclusion of a priority in the plan is “a great validation tool,” Stevenson says, for groups or organizations that have been working in that area in the past.

“A broad, diverse group has now come up with the same strategy and prioritized it, and given them a lot of ammunition.”

Process has paid off elsewhere

Tom Mullins is president and chief executive officer of the Tyler (Texas) Area Chamber of Commerce and the Tyler Economic Development Council. That city went through this same process under the guidance of Luke about a year-and-a-half ago, and Mullins says the plan has been particularly valuable to him in the sense that Stevenson described.

“Someone in my position can get pulled in a lot of different directions, depending on the loudest voices around the table,” Mullins says. “But now I can point to this document, to the priorities we have set, and really keep people on task.”

Since implementation of the plan, Mullins says, Tyler has adopted a master airport improvement plan, obtained voter approval for a tax to finance infrastructure improvements, implemented a community policing program, and obtained legislative funding to support a four-year engineering program at a local university.

Mullins said the plan was not solely responsible for accomplishing any of those things, but it helped in achieving all of them by, “giving us a direction to travel and a systematic way to do it.”

Hadley and Stevenson say the priorities of the plan will be accomplished by the continued involvement of groups like Momentum, the Chamber of Commerce, civic organizations, private business and schools.

But The New Century Plan steering committee will serve as a coordinating group to see who is working on what strategies, and what groups, or “implementing organizations,” might need to be recruited to work on strategies that aren’t covered. In some cases, Hadley says, organizations like the chambers of commerce or the EDC might alter their own programs to cover priorities brought out in the plan.

“There needs to be just enough structure (in the steering committee),” says Hadley, “to allow for the continuity of this moving forward. But the real life of it all occurs in these implementing organizations.”

Lexington, Ky., is at about the same stage as Spokane in the development of its plan. Bob Douglass, president and chief executive officer of the Lexington Chamber of Commerce, says that city’s planning committee has decided to target just a few of the plan’s priorities during the first year of implementation.

“Out of a couple of hundred action items, we are going to identify several that are very visible and doable,” Douglass says. “Then we are going to work the heck out of those things so we can have some visible success and the perception becomes that this is a group that can get things done.”

At this point, the Spokane steering committee seems to be thinking in broader terms than that, but clearly, some early successes would boost enthusiasm for the work ahead.

And Stevenson and Hadley emphasize, that work is important.

“I think this is an important time for our community in that we have a number of tools in the tool box,” Stevenson says. “We’ve got the Pace Report that says there’s need and issues to be addressed if we want to remain a first-tier city.

“There’s the New Century Plan that will give us a vital community focus. And there’s the 10-year history of Momentum that really says that a group of people that get together and focus on key objectives for the community really can make a big difference.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Logo of The New Century 2000 Plan

MEMO: The full text of the New Century plan that ran in an insert in today’s paper is not in the database.

This sidebar appeared with the story: A PLAN FOR GROWTH Some key steps that led to the New Century Plan: January 1995: Leaders of Momentum, the Convention and Visitors Bureau, Economic Development Council, and the Spokane and Valley chambers of commerce began planning a community event to kick off development of an economic plan for the Spokane region. September 1995: The Pace Group of Tupelo, Miss., unveils a study of the Spokane area’s economic competitiveness. Among other things, the Pace Report highlighted the growth of poverty in Spokane and the need for higher paying jobs. December 1995: Henry Luke, a strategic planning consultant from Jacksonville, Fla., was hired to facilitate creation of the New Century Plan. February 1996: Stakeholder Summit seeks public input to be used in formulating the New Century Plan. February-March 1996: New Century Plan Task Force, a group representing diverse community interests, meets to draft the plan published in today’s Spokesman-Review.

The full text of the New Century plan that ran in an insert in today’s paper is not in the database.

This sidebar appeared with the story: A PLAN FOR GROWTH Some key steps that led to the New Century Plan: January 1995: Leaders of Momentum, the Convention and Visitors Bureau, Economic Development Council, and the Spokane and Valley chambers of commerce began planning a community event to kick off development of an economic plan for the Spokane region. September 1995: The Pace Group of Tupelo, Miss., unveils a study of the Spokane area’s economic competitiveness. Among other things, the Pace Report highlighted the growth of poverty in Spokane and the need for higher paying jobs. December 1995: Henry Luke, a strategic planning consultant from Jacksonville, Fla., was hired to facilitate creation of the New Century Plan. February 1996: Stakeholder Summit seeks public input to be used in formulating the New Century Plan. February-March 1996: New Century Plan Task Force, a group representing diverse community interests, meets to draft the plan published in today’s Spokesman-Review.



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