Two leaders of Spokane economic development efforts over the last two decades are stepping down, and their contributions should be recognized.
Rich Hadley has announced he will retire in April as president of Greater Spokane Incorporated, an entity that did not exist when he arrived in Spokane 20 years ago from St. Paul, Minn.
Jon Eliassen surrendered the titles of president and chief executive officer of Red Lion Hotels Corp. earlier this month. He continues to be chairman of the board at Itron Inc., a company spun off by Avista Corp. when Eliassen was chief financial officer there.
He’s a hard man to retire.
Eliassen’s most direct contribution to community economic development stems from his Spokane Area Economic Development Council, where he was pressed into service after leaving Avista in 2002. At the time, the EDC was the lead business recruitment organization for Spokane. The Spokane Regional Chamber of Commerce focused on the nurturing of, and advocating for, local businesses.
The organization chart of local business organizations also included the Downtown Business Association, which was separating from the Chamber just as Hadley was accepting the Spokane job; the Momentum ’93 development push was nearing the end of its episodic sequel to the Momentum effort of the mid-1980s; the Spokane Convention and Visitors Bureau and internal city and county economic development offices.
Spokane was rich in organizations, less so in economic progress, and Hadley said when he took over the chamber that one of his priorities was consolidating business promotion efforts. Even if their roles did not overlap, there were too many hands out in the community seeking financial support.
Hadley and Eliassen, with important guidance from their boards of directors, finally merged their shops in 2007, creating Greater Spokane Incorporated. Since then, GSI has become the strong, unified advocate for Spokane in Washington, D.C., Olympia and in the recruitment of companies such as Caterpillar.
Hadley has also helped build relationships in North Idaho, which has raised the region’s profile among members of both state congressional delegations.
Both have been instrumental in growing the University District from little more than a vision into the center of a new bioscience complex that will be a major contributor to Spokane’s future economic vitality.
Spokane has always had to fight hard for recognition and resources. Hadley and Eliassen were by no means alone in setting priorities and pushing for results. Leadership in the Legislature, from other elected officials and from the area’s universities has been equally important.
But look back two decades, and it would be hard to identify many major initiatives that do not have their fingerprints or the mark of the organizations they led or continue to lead.
Spokane is the better for their work.