Clearwater Economic Development Association
The Palouse Knowledge Corridor’s Be The Entrepreneur Bootcamp™ isn’t just a hub for entrepreneurs: It’s also a place for the people and organizations who support them to make connections and figure out how to help the next generation of Northwest business leaders succeed.
That’s why the Clearwater Economic Development Association (CEDA), a public-private organization that drives regional economic development, makes sure it has a seat at the table.
“The Bootcamp provides quality training opportunities for both existing and potential small business owners and managers,” said John Lane, the business development and finance director for CEDA. “By coming together in support of the Bootcamp, each contributor is leveraging their contribution to achieve a common goal, a vibrant economy and opportunity for local citizens.”
Regional Economic Growth – Local Resources
Lane, who has been at CEDA for 20 years, knows important resources when he sees them. CEDA was formally created in 1967 to serve the five counties in north-central Idaho: Clearwater, Nez Perce, Lewis, and Latah. Now, the organization owns and leases an office building for high-tech startups in Alturas Park in Moscow; is assisting with the coordination of the regional tourism organization and wine alliance; works with small cities in Latah County, like Potlatch and Kendrick, with project development and infrastructure training; is developing a certified meat processing plant for small local producers; and works with industry, the University of Idaho, Lewis Clark State College, and local school districts to train tomorrow’s technical workforce with the skills needed for local manufacturers. CEDA’s initiatives are typically public-private partnerships that include local businesses and banks, local governments, and other economic development organizations, like its counterpart the Southeast Washington Economic Development Association (SEWEDA). CEDA also has a portfolio of more than 40 small business loans with an aggregate balance of $ $2.1 million in its five north Idaho counties, as well as in the four southeast Washington counties of Whitman, Asotin, Garfield, and Columbia.
“Because of our proximity to the state line, we have a lot of programs that impact both sides,” Lane said. “It doesn’t matter if a business owner is in Pullman, Moscow, Lewiston, or Clarkston, we can serve them or connect them with someone who can.”
Be The Entrepreneur Bootcamp
The Bootcamp helps entrepreneurs tap into resources like CEDA, Lane said.
“Really, it’s about connecting with the resources and interacting with the people,” he said. “The connections entrepreneurs make with resources in the area is as important as the connections they make with the campers. We have an immense number of resources here, and they’re probably underutilized because people don’t know they’re available. The people like us, who have the resources, struggle with letting people know they’re available. The Bootcamp helps us reach the people who need us.”
CEDA’s work has changed in the nearly 50 years it’s been around, but its core mission has always been to help regional entrepreneurs and build the local economy, Lane said. As programs have come and gone, they’ve made sure that they never lose sight of the community they’re working to help.
CEDA’s mission can also get complicated.
“Sometimes those folks who represent the public sector and those who represent the private have different motivations and a lack of understanding of each other, so it can be challenging to get them in the same room and working toward the same thing in the same way,” he said.
Lane attributes the work done by Christine Frei, the organization’s executive director, for helping overcome some of those barriers and helping the region’s business owners succeed.
“Christine has done a tremendous job in her 15 years here, and it’s gotten easier because she’s developed the relationships that are needed for those partnerships,” he said. “We have a tremendous network of partnerships in the public and private sectors that didn’t exist 20 years ago.”
Business Growth In A Rural Location – CEDA’s Role
One recurring dilemma CEDA faces is keeping thriving businesses in the area. Students will come out of the region’s universities and colleges with an idea and launch it, but challenges to growth in the region, such as its rural location and lack of proximity to an international airport, mean they need to move to continue to grow.
“We’ll help them, and a couple of years later they move on to different markets,” Lane said. “There has to be a motivation on the business owner’s part to want to be here. There’s no getting around that, and I don’t see it changing in my lifetime.”
That doesn’t mean Lane wants to stop helping businesses get off the ground. Some of the challenges, like having more flights into the region’s airports from big cities, can help alleviate the problem, and some business owners have elected to keep local offices even as they grow big elsewhere.
“Sometimes we work to try to get people to come back,” Lane said. “They go away with what they need to do, and hopefully when they come back they bring a business with them.”
Networking – The Sparkplug Of Economic Growth
Ultimately, Lane is proud of the economic development work that CEDA, SEWEDA, and now the Bootcamp are doing in the region, and hopes the efforts lead to continued economic growth.
“We have one of the best regions in the whole nation in regards to our network of partners — if you call our office with an idea or a challenge, if we can’t help you we probably know where to send you,” he said. “If you access our network and keep after it, you’ll find the connections.”