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Development staff spreading out

Washington’s economic development agency is moving staff from Olympia into other regions in an effort to better align state resources with local priorities.

But the affected division of the Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development already has two workers assigned to Eastern Washington, and the eight-county area isn’t slated to receive more, representatives said.

Regional economic development officials on Thursday called for additional personnel during a brainstorming session about local needs and how to execute the new plan.

Division officials provide technical and funding assistance to businesses, public agencies and nonprofits, helping connect them with grants, loans and other resources designed to spur job growth and business expansion.

Eastern Washington may not see many effects from what the department called a “fundamental” policy shift, officials said. But Terry Lawhead, Eastern Washington’s regional manager, said regional managers will be “better able to be advocates for local requests and conduits to additional resources in programs such as recruitment case management, marketing, training and leadership capacity building.”

While there are three big projects in Lincoln County that need help with project development and financing, it took about a month to have a meeting with a department official, said Pam Kelley, executive director of the Lincoln County Economic Development Council.

Lawhead “is fantastic, but he is one guy, and he has a huge region,” she said.

“I think that the state would really benefit from putting some people out in the rural areas who know how to develop projects,” she said. “I think you’re weak there.”

The department was scheduled to establish a presence in seven regions by this month. But it “got no new money to do any of this,” said Larry Williams, assistant director for the International Trade and Economic Development Division.

“So we’re deploying what we have,” he said.

The North Central region, including Okanogan, Chelan and Douglas counties, is seeing “huge differences” as a result of the change, Williams said.

Among recent projects helped by state economic development loans are industrial buildings at the Spokane International Airport, infrastructure in Lincoln County, and buildings and a feasibility study in Whitman County.

The new approach stems from “The Next Washington,” Gov. Chris Gregoire’s economic policy, which stresses aligning policies and programs of economic and work-force development organizations, creating regional offices and promoting Innovation Partnership Zones.

Lawhead said he anticipates “local organizations being more confident and empowered to tap state resources and increasingly own those resources to better invest in the communities they serve.

“This is about the state being increasingly a better partner in all ways,” he said.

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