Public meetings next week will seek ideas on economic development
By Marcy Stamper
The Twisp and Winthrop chambers of commerce are teaming up to gather ideas — from residents and business owners — for economic development in the Methow Valley. They have also been conducting their own research into what employers and employees need to create a healthy local economy.
To that end, the chambers are hosting two public meetings next week to find out people’s visions of what economic vitality will look like over the next five or 10 years. They want to know what is missing from the valley’s economy, gather ideas for new businesses, and learn what infrastructure is needed for businesses to succeed.
The meetings are Tuesday (May 26) from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Methow Valley Community Center gym in Twisp, and Thursday, May 28, from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Winthrop Barn.
Ideas about what types of business development are suitable — or not suitable — for the Methow are also welcome. The chamber committee also wants business ideas specific to Winthrop and to Twisp.
The meetings are open to everyone — not just members of the two chambers. Information gathered from the public will be incorporated in an economic development plan, which the chamber committee expects to complete over the next three to five months, according to Julie Muyllaert, vice president of the Winthrop Chamber of Commerec.
For more information, call TwispWorks at 997-3300.
The impetus for the focus on how to build a resilient local economy came in part from witnessing the impacts of last year’s wildfires, Muyllaert said.
The two chambers have been meeting with one another and with representatives of industries in the valley such as light manufacturing; recreation; lodging; technology businesses; creative enterprises; and the conservation sector, which includes habitat restoration and salmon recovery. They are also gathering information about the needs of agriculture, according to Muyllaert.
Beyond looking at what businesses require for growth, the chamber committee is seeking to define the infrastructure necessary to sustain both employees and employers. That could include affordable housing, child care, and educational opportunities to develop skilled employees, said Muyllaert.
The focus on economic development will include numerous opportunities for education and public involvement over the course of the year.
The Methow Valley has been selected as a pilot site for a new initiative called the Local Investment Opportunity Network (LION), which is designed to help businesses that need cash to launch or expand.
LION connects businesses with individuals willing to lend them money for an agreed-upon interest rate, or even for products or store coupons, according to Jordan Tampien, a community economic development specialist with Washington State University (WSU) Extension, which is coordinating the program. LION facilitates meetings between businesses seeking financing and those interested in investing, as well as overall education for businesses and investors, said Tampien.
LION has been able to fill a gap where businesses are not able to obtain a traditional bank loan, often because administrative costs make it unprofitable for banks to lend smaller sums of money, said Tampien.
LION does not have a minimum investment amount, although for the program to run efficiently, loans are typically not below $2,000, said Tampien. The investor also takes on the full risk of the loan.
In addition to providing actual cash for businesses, LION gives businesses a unique opportunity to get advice from people with local knowledge or business expertise, said Tampien.
The Methow Valley will be LION’s fifth pilot project in the state, joining Chewelah, Davenport, Kettle Falls and Sequim. Most projects are just 1 year old.
LION is different from peer-to-peer lending programs such as lendingclub.com or prosper.com, which often pool many small loans, and from other online initiatives like Kickstarter.com or GoFundMe.com, which don’t provide a return on the investment, said Tampien.
The specifics of LION — the geographic area eligible for participation, the interest rate and whether investors must live in the community — will be determined by the investors themselves, said Tampien.
LION has been working with TwispWorks but hasn’t formalized the arrangements for local facilitation of the program, said Tampien. LION and local partners will facilitate meetings to connect businesses and potential investors and related trainings, most likely this fall.
Other business education
The chambers will also be hosting a series of workshops and speakers, also this fall.
These efforts will be funded in part by a $150,000 grant from the North Central Washington Economic Development District to support economic development in areas hardest hit by the Carlton Complex Fire — the Methow Valley, Brewster and Pateros, and the Chiliwist, said Muyllaert. Workshops will be tailored to individuals interested in starting new businesses or expanding existing ones. They will also provide assistance in business planning, marketing and financial management.
The grant, made to Methow Valley Long Term Recovery and the countywide long-term recovery group, will fund speakers at chamber meetings in addition to the workshops, said Muyllaert.