January 31, 2007 in Business

Regional development groups merge

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Spokane’s Regional Chamber of Commerce and Area Economic Development Council will morph into a single, new organization with a 4 p.m. launch today in the INB Performing Arts Center.

More details on the merged group, including its new name, will be announced at the public reception.

The goal is to combine both groups’ strengths while eliminating redundancy — in the quest to improve regional economic prosperity, organizers say.

Months of study convinced the separate groups last year to merge in an effort to become more competitive and effective, said Heidi Stanley, former chairwoman of the chamber of commerce. She will also lead the new organization’s board.

“Many regions throughout the nation are way ahead of us and we needed to make sure our community, our region has a ticket to the game as it relates to competition with other regions for investment, people and companies,” said Stanley, who is also chief operating officer of Sterling Savings Bank.

The new organization will concentrate its efforts in five areas: economic development, public policy, (workforce) talent development and recruitment, local business support and regional marketing strategies.

Rich Hadley, long-time president of the chamber, will head the blended organization. His counterpart at the EDC, Jon Eliassen, stepped down from that post at the end of the year to pursue other business interests.

Assisting Hadley at the new organization will be a staff of 29 — most of whom are already on the payroll as either chamber or EDC employees. Together, about six unfilled positions within the groups were left vacant last year in anticipation of the merger.

Joining the staff will be five new vice presidents, expected to be named by the end of March, Hadley said. Each will oversee a team of employees, respectively focused on economic development, public policy, workforce development, business resources as well as marketing and communications.

The group will continue to be headquartered in the downtown Spokane Regional Business Center.

In all, 1,500 chamber members and 280 EDC members—including 180 members common to both—will be absorbed under the umbrella group.

Fueling it will be $3.3 million combined budget, from membership dues as well as public and corporate support. In order to further advance its work, the new group will be asking members to increase their levels of financial support, with hopes of raising another $600,000 in 2007, Hadley said.The increased dues will depend on the level of services to which each member subscribes.

During the preliminary phase of fundraising, all but one of the member groups approached agreed to plow more money into the organization, Hadley said.

It’s important to increase funding if the group is to reach ever-higher goals, Hadley added.

In August, the 78 members of both groups’ boards unanimously OK’d the merger. Lengthy examinations of at least 10 similar organizations around the country inspired the action, Stanley said.

In the weeks ahead, the new organization will name its 45-member board of directors, launch a joint Web site, work on its identity and branding, fill job openings and publish a set of metrics by which it expects its performance to be annually measured.

“It’s all about competition. We’re looking beyond comparing ourselves to Tacoma. We’re looking at going out into the national and global market and attracting additional investment, people and supporting businesses that are already here,” Stanley said. “Everyone benefits when a community does well.”


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