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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

GSI panel discusses the workforce challenge facing Spokane businesses

Carla Cicero, the new Board of Trustees Chair for Greater Spokane Inc, speaks at the organization’s annual celebration Wednesday at the Spokane Convention Center.  (Colin Mulvany/The Spokesman-Review)

Reflecting on Spokane’s first full year after exiting the coronavirus pandemic, Greater Spokane Inc. held its annual celebration Wednesday to address some of the biggest challenges facing businesses in the Lilac City.

And the biggest threat for most employers remains finding enough qualified workers, according to panel members at the event at the Spokane Convention Center.

“You can come up with challenges, but at the end of the day it is workforce, workforce, workforce,” said Joel Gilbertson, the regional chief executive for Washington and Montana and executive vice president at Providence Health & Services. “Workforce is blotting out the sun right now. There simply isn’t enough talent out there.”

Gilbertson said that lack of available workers is having noticeable impacts on Spokane.

“From the health care perspective, we have (operating rooms) we are not running, we have beds we are not able to staff, which has real implications,” he said.

Gilbertson joined a panel that included Nicole Sohn, co-founder the Journey Discovery Center; Julie Honekamp, CEO of Spokane Neighborhood Action Partners and Stacey Cowles, publisher of The Spokesman-Review.

The discussion was moderated by Eva Marquette, owner of FreshVue, a strategic design and organizational development company based in Spokane.

“I just was thinking how rich our community is in expertise and experience … and just how important it is to slow down and really listen to each other,” she said.

Sohn agreed with Gilbertson that workforce remains a challenge, but she also noted that business leaders need to find more ways to support their workers.

She noted that the U.S. Census Bureau predicted that by 2030 the country will have more people over the age of 65 than those under the age of 18.

“That will be the first time in U.S. history that that will be true,” she said. We “have retirees who are more and more dependent on their children to care for them. We need to really start looking at care broader than just child care.”

As part of the event, the organization welcomed its new chair, Carla Cicero, who is the CEO and president of Numerica Credit Union. Cicero took over for Marcelo Morales, the founder of A4Ventures, a private investment firm.

“The recent 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer shows that business is the only institution that people trust as we navigate this polarized world,” Cicero said. “So it is critical that we actively engage in solutions.”

Gilbertson, of Providence, said he believes the business development organization is uniquely positioned to help find those answers.

“Understanding and accepting the problems we are trying to solve right now are huge and you’ve got to address them at a scale in which they exist,” he said. “I think GSI and this community has a great history of that.”