Whitman County Washington
Whitman County Business Growth
Building up thriving businesses isn’t just a private-sector goal; it’s also one pursued and supported by the public sector.
Regional Entrepreneurial Support
That’s why the Whitman County Commissioners count themselves among the supporters of the Palouse Knowledge Corridor’s™ Be the Entrepreneur Bootcamp™. After all, a thriving economy helps support the regional tax base, schools, infrastructure, and other necessary requirements of a healthy community. And there’s no better way to build an economy than with the entrepreneurship and ideas of people already in the community.
“We should support entrepreneurial development because we want to be good stewards of our time and resources which means keeping local dollars local,” Whitman County Commissioner Dean Kinzer said. “We don’t want people having to travel long distances to get things that are not available locally and essentially supporting everything in another area.”
Commissioner Kinzer works at the county seat in Colfax, and is also a member of the Pullman School Board.
Statewide Entrepreneurial Support
The Whitman County Commissioners are also acting on Washington State’s priorities.
“As with any government entity, if you need an area to be productive and growing, you’re certainly looking for economic development to come to the area,” Commissioner Kinzer said. “We serve two land-grant universities in our area, so it’s to our advantage if we can provide them with services and products locally, and be able to collect revenue and maintain infrastructure in our cities and counties.”
Southeast Washington Economic Development Association (SEWEDA)
The state provides economic development money to counties to hire an Associate Development Organization (ADO) employee. In Whitman County, the money is directed to the Southeast Washington Economic Development Association (SEWEDA), which is a member of the Palouse Knowledge Corridor™. SWEDA hires and manages the ADO for the county. The ADO’s primary job is to be an advocate and resources for people who want to start a business.
Sarah McKnight is Whitman County’s ADO. She’s been with the county for close to a year, Commissioner Kinzer said.
“Sarah has a tremendous number of resources that can help people who want to start a business,” he said. “She fits in well with PKC™, in that if people need information about any area they aren’t familiar with, she has references and resources and she can point in the correct direction.”
Whitman County’s efforts are having an effect. Washington State University continues to grow, with consistent record enrollment on all of its campuses. Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories has also expanded across the world, and recently announced it would hire 850 more employees in Pullman. The City of Pullman and Pullman School District are also growing, adding housing, schools and classrooms at a frantic pace.
Room For Improvement
But it’s disquieting to Commissioner Kinzer that about 80 percent of people who work in Pullman, the county’s biggest city, don’t live there.
“We’d like to allow them to live closer to their work, and providing the businesses that people want in their community will help with that,” he said. “Growth is vital.”
Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA)
Commissioner Kinzer said that the Pullman/Moscow area is on the precipice of being declared a metropolitan statistical area (MSA), which is a census and government designation that gives a region more economic visibility. That could potentially attract some big-box stores, he said.
The challenge is that most MSA’s aren’t quite as student-heavy. The Pullman-Moscow area has about 55,000 people, but about 30,000 of those people are students.
“You can’t support the economy on students,” Commissioner Kinzer said, noting that attracting more year-round residents, in addition to encouraging people who already work in Pullman to move to town, is another important goal.
From Startups To Established Businesses
He hopes that the PKC™ and BTE Bootcamp™ can help bring businesses to Pullman and the rest of Whitman County, thus bringing people.
“Whitman County feels that by joining forces with other entities in the region we could offer more support and resources for those people that are either in business or wanting to start a business,” he said. “Knowing that 80 percent of all new businesses fail within the first two years, we have needed an entity like the PKC™ with the BTE Bootcamp™ to help these new businesses and entrepreneurs avoid the pitfalls that cause businesses to fail. We want to arm these entrepreneurs with the information to be successful in their business endeavors.”
That doesn’t mean the students don’t have something to offer, Commissioner Kinzer is quick to say. The intellectual activity at the two schools, as well as Lewis-Clark College, is exciting, but the trick is encouraging graduates to stay in town. The county and city governments can do that by creating a laboratory and storefront spaces necessary to start businesses and other steps to accommodating that intellectual property.
“We would like to have more lab and building space for people to develop their products and get started in their business, but that’s a challenge,” Commissioner Kinzer said. “It’s a chicken-and-egg thing, and it requires businesses to get started.”
Palouse Knowledge Corridor Connections
In the long term, he sees the PKC™, relationships across state lines, and the county ADOs as integral to economic growth on the Palouse.
“The PKC™ is in a position to be the go-to organization in this area, that has a handle on where resources are, possible business sites, and to just be a general information center for those entrepreneurs that would like to start new businesses,” he said. The PKC™ serves areas in both Washington and Idaho, and its economy of scale allows the two communities to pool resources and accommodate entrepreneurs in the entire region.
Why The Palouse?
The Palouse is special and is poised to grow, but growth needs to be approached in the best way for the community, Commissioner Kinzer said.
“The Palouse has some of the most fertile dry land farming ground in the world that exports to destinations all over the world. We have two land grant universities within eight miles of each other that bring in funding from all over the world. We also have Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories that exports products all around the world. We have many smaller entities that do business with others from out of the area. Any time an area can export and bring in money from other areas, that area usually thrives and grows which usually translates to prosperity for the region.”