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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Meet Spokane’s new leader of the community and economic development division

Steven MacDonald is the City of Spokane's new Community and Economic Development Director.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Steven MacDonald is new to the city of Spokane, but has a career’s worth of experience in community and economic development.

MacDonald, who took the reins of the new Community and Economic Development division last month, is settling into a role that features familiar challenges in a new setting.

MacDonald was hired by Mayor Nadine Woodward after more than a decade managing a Los Angeles-based firm’s investments in economically challenged areas.

Now, he’ll be tasked with leading a city division that encompasses economic development services, city planning, development services, code and parking enforcement.

The Community and Economic Development division is the result of some administrative shuffling last year by Woodward’s staff, who felt that the scope of work taken on by the former Neighborhood and Business Services Division was too broad. Under the model adopted by former Mayor David Condon, that division also dealt with homeless services, neighborhoods and customer service.

“We just realized there was just so much work going on there, we needed to relieve that division of some of that,” Woodward said, noting the decision was made after consultation with city staffers.

MacDonald is no stranger to municipal government, having worked for the city of Los Angeles on economic development, including a role in the mayor’s office.

“He’s bringing in such a skillset and a perspective,” Woodward said.

Woodward can thank Gonzaga University for luring MacDonald to Spokane. MacDonald’s son attended Gonzaga and decided to stay after graduating in 2020, buying a house in Medical Lake.

Over the last couple of years, MacDonald and his wife had discussed making Spokane home in the near future.

“That ‘near future’ kind of zoomed up on us quite a bit when I found out about the open position here and kind of reflected on my past work history,” MacDonald said.

Woodward agreed he would be a good fit, in large part because of his background.

MacDonald most recently worked for 13 years at Strategic Development Solutions, or SDS. In that role, MacDonald oversaw its efforts to secure New Market Tax Credits, which are made available by the federal government through a program meant to attract private investment in low-income areas.

“That particular funding I think has relevance to Spokane, because there are a number of census tracts – quite a few – that qualify to utilize that funding, but that funding hasn’t been utilized too much,” MacDonald said.

Woodward expects MacDonald to bring investment into the city’s Qualified Opportunity Zones.

“I really appreciate his work in the previous job he had where he would go into low-income communities and create new opportunities,” Woodward said.

But spurring growth in low-income sections of the city is far from MacDonald’s only duty.

Woodward has pledged to speed permitting times for new housing developments. MacDonald also will have to focus on filling open positions in key areas like planning.

“We’re doing our best to get through that,” MacDonald said.

Housing development isn’t directly under MacDonald’s purview, but it will play a key role in economic development. Without an adequate supply of housing at all levels, economic development will be hindered, MacDonald argued{%%note} {/%%note}.

“There’s so little vacancy, there’s so little product, that’s been a huge concern,” MacDonald said.

Despite the challenges, MacDonald views Spokane as already being economically well-positioned.

The city’s three public development authorities, which aim to spur development in specific areas of the city, are a “huge asset for us,” MacDonald said. The city’s downtown is on that list, MacDonald added, with its historic buildings and prime location adjacent to the Spokane River.

“I can’t think of another city of this size that has that same potential,” MacDonald said.

Downtown provides an opportunity for dense housing, and some offices may be suitable for conversion as work requirements change due to the pandemic, MacDonald said.

The city has a vibrant food and beverage culture with its wine, distilleries, and craft breweries that are able to appeal not only to current residents, but potential newcomers.

“I’m three weeks in and I’m just starting to talk to people both internally and externally,” MacDonald.