Economic Development District earns award for helping our small communities thrive
The North Central Washington Economic Development District is doing some groundbreaking work in making economic development more accessible to rural communities as well as to groups of people that typically are left out in the cold in our economy..
The NCWEDD earned the Economic Development Award for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion from the Washington Economic Development Association.I sat down with NCWEDD executive director Alyce Brown and Director of Development Brooklyn Holton recently to talk about the efforts the agency is taking to create greater equity in terms of opportunities for economic development.
When most people think about the phrase, diversity, equity and inclusion, they’re thinking solely of racial and cultural dimensions. But that limited view obscures the reality that barriers exist to opportunity across many dimensions. A more appropriate understanding of diversity, equity and inclusion takes this broader context into account.
At a recent state economic development meeting, the discussions were focused on urban rather than rural communities. Yet the challenges faced by communities and businesses served by the NCWEDD are radically different from issues impacting urban economic development. Serving people in far-flung rural communities is far different from serving them in urban settings.
Common barriers include geographic distribution, low population density, low rates of personal income as well as limited educational and employment options.
That’s exactly the mindset that the NCWEDD has adopted in developing its Backing Small NCW program. Traditionally, the organization tended to serve as a funder of projects but the approach has evolved into identifying barriers and finding creative ways to foster success for businesses, families, workers and communities in the region.
A great example is the Supernova Business Launch Competition, an annual process that identifies and supports small businesses in the region. There is a $10,000 prize for the winning entry, but what has been more valuable, according to Holton and Brown, is that a network of creative small businesses has emerged from that competition. Connecting entrepreneurs to each other has turned out to be a highly valuable aspect for the individuals involved, Brown said.
Another Backing Small NCW effort is targeted at helping rural communities build more resilient downtowns. Thanks to a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant, they worked with the communities of Oroville and Brewster to develop strategic five-year plans. “We are currently seeking an additional grant from the USDA to begin this exact same work in Elmer/Coulee City and Okanogan,” said Brown.
The NCWEDD has also built a strong working relationship with the Colville Confederated Tribes thanks to the organizations current board chair, Matthew Pleasants, a Colville Confederated Tribes member and Senior Planner for the tribe. Conversations have included the creation of a tribal market. The market would provide a culturally aware market for tribal artists and makers to sell their handmade goods while providing access to fresh fruits and vegetables to tribal members in an area of our region often refered to as a fruit desert.
These approaches are innovative and community-centric. “To me, it shouldn’t be groundbreaking to care about people and take a community approach,” said Holton.
I appreciate the human-centered approach that Holton and Brown have placed at the center of the NCWEDD’s efforts to help build community and foster economic development that works for as many as possible.
The work of the organization has been focused on better understanding what our rural communities, families and small businesses need to be resilient and thrive and then working to help meet those needs.
The success of the Supernova Business Launch Competition is a perfect example of how the organization is succeeding by building relationships. “It’s because we’ve formed a community with all of these alumni,” she said.
Grounding its working at the grass-roots of communities and then working to bring funds, technology and expertise to help communities and business succeed is a winning combination. Brown’s mantra, “strong, inclusive economies begin with hometown pride,” really hits the mark.