Q & A Alisha Benson
CEO of Greater Spokane Incorporated By Colin Anderson
Photo courtesy of Kennedy Claire Photography
Q. How did you come to find out about Greater Spokane Incorporated (GSI), and what made you want to pursue a leadership role within the organization?
A. When we moved to Spokane 12-plus years ago, I was seeking opportunities that would allow me to utilize my skills and interests in community development, coalition building, training and consensus building. I was searching various job postings and found a listing for a membership services manager at the Spokane Chamber. I was hired and started four days before we launched our new brand as Greater Spokane Incorporated.
Q. For those who don't know GSI, briefly describe the goals of your organization.
A. GSI creates the place where organizations come together to advocate for the region, drive strategic economic growth and to champion a talented workforce. Because our future is greater than any one of us. That is not just a mission statement; it is GSI’s philosophy. We divide our work into three pillars: Growth, Talent and Voice. In simple terms, within our Growth Pillar, we provide support, connections and services to assist businesses in expanding, locating and growing here. Within our Talent Pillar, we listen to the needs of the employer community and work with our education partners to create pathways of learning and experience. Our Voice Pillar is about advocacy and marketing the Spokane region as the best place in Washington to operate a business of any kind, in any sector.
Q. Does GSI have specific goals for 2020 in regard to continued economic growth in the Spokane area?
A. We are always looking for ways to solve problems for the employer community. While the “new” company coming to the area always appears in the news, one of our primary focuses in 2020 is to broaden our outreach to companies already here. We want to get the true pulse of the existing businesses here and strengthen them to grow and prosper.
We are also focused on marketing the economic development assets of our region of growth and opportunity through a new virtual gateway to Spokane—AdvantageSpokane.com. We have to tell the Spokane story as we all work to grow the region through target sectors of life and health sciences, advanced manufacturing, aerospace and agribusiness.
Q. Spokane has seen tremendous growth and revitalization over the past 15 years. In your opinion, what are some of the key factors leading to this revitalization?
A. We have, and it is exciting! Coming out of the recession, Spokane was definitely affected, but not as deep and prolonged as other areas, both in Washington and elsewhere. It led us to rebound a bit more quickly.
As far as key factors, Spokane has a history of coalescing around a goal and building coalitions to get there: Expo ’74, Bloomsday, Hoopfest, Fairchild, a medical school, the list goes on. And our region’s evolution around the economic development ecosystem is the “next big thing” to get right. All of our citizens, including the employer community, deserve that.
Q. What are some of your favorite experiences around town?
A. My husband and I have young children, so we are generally at a sporting event or dropping someone off or picking someone up! When we aren’t doing that, we enjoy skiing, hiking and lake time in the summer. We also enjoy our incredible current (and always growing) foodie scene.
Q. What support do you provide for locals who are looking at starting their own business in the community?
A. GSI houses StartUp Spokane for those who have a great idea to start a business. StartUp Spokane is the “front door” of the start-up business ecosystem in Spokane. At StartUp Spokane, we support entrepreneurs with navigating and connecting to the partners and resources in the region, provide networking, professional development and mentorship opportunities, and operate a co-working space for Startup members to work, innovate and connect.
Q. As we enter a new decade, what do you feel will be some of the most pressing issues for local businesses moving forward?
A. Some of the pressing issues in this area include increased housing, access to affordable childcare, and balancing the regulatory environment for business with the necessity to address these critical community and economic issues. Our community, not just Spokane but surrounding areas too, needs more housing of all types and for all wage earners. We need to develop a region-wide strategy about smartly growing our housing options. Access to affordable quality childcare is increasingly being recognized as a top workforce issue. If a parent can’t find or can’t afford childcare, he or she will likely remain out of the workforce.
Addressing significant issues for our region, the state and across the county will require bold, collaborative leadership and partnership. These issues are pressing and complex, however, I believe Spokane is ready to tackle them head on, together.