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Tuesday, April 7, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane ripe to be regional leader in growth momentum

GSI CEO Alisha Benson speaks duirng GSI's Annual Meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020, at the Spokane Convention Center in Spokane. She said Spokane is on the map for business development. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
GSI CEO Alisha Benson speaks duirng GSI's Annual Meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020, at the Spokane Convention Center in Spokane. She said Spokane is on the map for business development. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

As Spokane has gained nationwide recognition for its job growth, real estate market, affordability and quality of life – it’s time to think forward for the region, said Alisha Benson, CEO of Greater Spokane Incorporated at the organization’s annual event.

“As an organization and as a region, the stakes are truly high,” Benson told hundreds of business and city leaders Wednesday at the Spokane Convention Center. “For GSI, 2020 is a year focused on creating a bias for action and generating momentum. It’s about greater growth. It’s about greater voice. It’s about greater talent, because that is truly what grows a thriving economy.”

Spokane is ripe for possibilities, she said, from being listed on Inc. magazine’s list of best places to start a business to being named by Redfin as one of four metro areas primed for growth in the next decade.

Benson said GSI’s goal for 2020 is to build on the region’s advanced manufacturing, aerospace, life and health sciences, agribusiness, and technology industries as well as forge partnerships for economic growth.

“GSI will be bold, transformational and forward-looking. We are not willing to dwell on the past,” she said. “We will collaborate and connect with partners who want to engage. GSI connects the dots for the entire region. We are committed to problem solving and providing solutions.”

Benson touted GSI’s Advantage Spokane marketing campaign, which includes an economic development website launched last year to showcase the region’s ability to support business and workforce growth.

Within the last year, the website reached more than 7,200 site location consultants, who viewed demographics and information about the region’s business climate, workforce, key industries and education, among other things.

Another area of focus for GSI in 2020 is securing sustainable funding for economic development through the Point 09 campaign, which advocates for expanding a state law that rebates 0.09% of sales and use tax to rural and border counties for economic development.

The measure could generate $11 million annually for economic development in Spokane County and allow communities to invest in job growth and support expansion of existing businesses.

“Our county is the only county in the state of Washington without sustainable economic development funding,” she said. “That should not be good enough for us. This creates a huge disparity for our county. We’re competing head to head for businesses with a state – Idaho – that has a significantly different business environment and seen by some as more friendly that Washington.”

Benson said the organization is placing emphasis on meeting the growing workforce demand in the region by connecting people to programs, apprenticeships and certificates.

The area is well on its way of reaching a goal of 60% of adults with post-secondary education – including the trades – by 2025 through GSI’s Business AfterSchool and Greater Minds programs, Benson said.

The BusinessAfter School and Teaching the Teachers workshops connected 175 business professionals to more than 100 educators, and 500 middle and high school students to create awareness around high-demand careers.

GSI, in partnership with the Washington Student Achievement Council, facilitated a microgrant pilot through its Greater Minds Program, which awarded 99 adult students the opportunity to return to school by removing financial hurdles.

Benson took over the helm as CEO of GSI last year following Todd Mielke’s resignation. She has been with the organization for more than 12 years leading economic development efforts. She most recently served as GSI’s chief strategy and business development officer before assuming the role of CEO.

GSI, which is Spokane’s business development organization, was formed in 2007 when the Spokane Regional Chamber of Commerce merged with the Spokane Area Economic Development Council. It represents more than 925 businesses that employ 120,000 workers, according to GSI’s website.

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