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Lost Momentum: Agency Yields To New Concept Focus 21 Inherits Responsibility For Crucial Economic Development Effort

Momentum, the private organization that financed much of Spokane’s economic development effort for a decade, is in the process of fading away.

After a 10-year run in which it played a critical role in the economic revitalization of Spokane and the Inland Northwest, Momentum will sign off following its March annual meeting, and give way to a different concept called Focus 21.

Effective as Momentum has been, say two men who have been at the heart of Spokane’s economic development evolution, a new generation of community leaders believe its day has come and gone.

“I think the investors in Momentum can feel real good about the return that they’ve received on that investment over the past 10 years,” says John T. Wagner, an executive vice president of Seafirst bank who is outgoing chairman of the Spokane Area Economic Development Council.

Focus 21 will represent a broader-based approach to setting and pursuing local economic development goals, said Gordon E. Budke, outgoing Momentum chairman.

“Sometimes I think the perception of Momentum was kind of like, ‘We’re the group with the checkbook, and the rest of you will do as we say,”’ adds Budke, who is managing partner of the accounting firm Coopers & Lybrand L.L.P.

The passing of Momentum also will mark sweeping changes for other players in Spokane’s economic development infrastructure - most of which have produced highly successful results over the past decade.

The Spokane Area Economic Development Council is undergoing internal restructuring, significant adjustment of its goals and targets, and a big change in its relationship with local chamber of commerce organizations and the Spokane Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The whole process involves sacrificing of turf and autonomy for everyone involved.

“In the 1980s we had net negative economic growth in this community,” Wagner explains. “So whatever we were going to do was going to be better than what we had been doing.

“But today we have positive economic growth, (and improving on that) takes a different strategy, a different focus and a different dedication.”

Momentum was the product of an invitation-only gathering of 110 of Spokane’s business elite in late 1986. They met to consider strategies to break Spokane’s economic stagnation, which contrasted sharply to a national economic resurrection and a genuine economic boom across the Cascade Mountains in Puget Sound.

The list of attendees included a who’s who of Spokane’s financial establishment: David Clack, William H. Cowles, 3rd, Paul Redmond, Phyllis Campbell, Lew Zirkle.

The organization began in 1987, set a goal of raising $3.5 million to support a five-year economic development plan, and actually raised $5.8 million.

The money was used to support agencies like the EDC, to fund political lobbyists, and to weigh into controversial political issues like a new Spokane arena and a waste-to-energy plant.

By the time Momentum decided to undertake a second five-year plan during 1991, the organization encompassed some 650 local businesses. Those businesses put up $5.5 million to feed Momentum’s second round.

The local economy flourished.

But as the region’s economic development efforts became more sophisticated, local economic development groups like the EDC became involved in self analysis. The EDC hired a consulting agency called The Pace Group to evaluate the community’s approach. Momentum later did the same thing with its New Century Plan.

What emerged from those evaluations was a sense that local economic development efforts should be more broadly based than just the business community. Creating jobs wasn’t enough. Poverty must be addressed. Social service agencies should share in setting priorities. The educational community should become a full partner in the process. And the efforts of individual economic development agencies should be more closely allied and coordinated.

Even the local business community seemed to want a broader-based approach.

As a result, Focus 21 will be a significantly different creature than Momentum.

Momentum has its own office, its own accounting system, its own paid staff. All of that will go away. The Spokane Area Chamber of Commerce will be the fiscal agent for Focus 21. The chamber also will provide staffing.

Leadership of the group will be provided by the Focus 21 Roundtable, a board representing much of the traditional business-oriented Momentum group, but encompassing social service agencies, education interests, city and county government and other local interests.

“We have a lot of willing participants,” Budke says.

Focus 21 will encompass five segments: economic recruitment, retention and expansion of local businesses, public policy development, work force development, and an “opportunity fund” for important projects that fall outside the other four areas.

Focus 21 will become part of a strategic alliance designed to coordinate and tie more closely economic development groups such as the EDC, the Spokane Area Chamber of Commerce, the Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Spokane Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Together, those entities have set a goal of creating 10,000 quality jobs in the Spokane economy over the next five years. Of those, 1,500 are to exceed a value of $23,000 in salaries and benefits; 7,000 are to exceed $28,000; and 1,500 are to exceed $45,000.

The EDC will continue its focus on recruiting new companies to the local economy, Wagner says. But the EDC’s goals will be more ambitious than ever.

EDC will be responsible for recruiting 1,000 of those jobs each year.

“Historically the EDC has taken on about 500 jobs,” Wagner says, “with the majority of the dollar levels between $18,000 and $23,000. Now they are being asked to double that.”

The other 5,000 jobs, Wagner and Budke say, are to be created through expansion of existing or recruited companies. The expansion-retention task will fall primarily to the two chambers and the convention and visitor’s bureau, they say.

The staffs of the EDC and the Spokane chamber will be asked to work much more closely together. By the end of March, Wagner says, the two agencies should have a plan in place to share administrative services and reduce duplication “to provide our investors in both organizations with a better return,” Wagner says.

And a couple of new key players will be added to the process.

The Spokane Regional International Trade Alliance will help develop international markets for existing local companies.

“This is an organization that can truly help the little guy compete in a global market,” Budke says.

And the Work Force Development Council will help ensure that local educational institutions are providing people with the skills local industries need. The council was largely an initiative of EDC President Bob Cooper. But in the new alliance, the Spokane chamber will become the supervising agency.

Wagner and Budke also see SIRTI as having a crucial role in the future economic development process.

“Momentum didn’t start out trying to be all things to all people,” says Wagner, “and it wasn’t. But as the strategic alliance is formed, and the mission and direction of the chambers and the EDC and Focus 21 comes about, once again, it’s not going to be all things to all people. There just isn’t any way to do that.

“But there is a way to cover an awful lot of what needs to be covered.

“This community has enjoyed tremendous success over the past 10 years,” Wagner concludes. “The next 10 years will be very dependent upon community recognition that we must continue what Momentum started. We can’t allow to slow down.”

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