Linked to the yearlong study of related factors
TwispWorks will host a series of communitywide “Business Sustainability Conversations” this year, starting next week, as part of an ongoing effort to identify ways to support and improve the valley’s economy.
The meetings will all be open to the public and each will have a theme, said TwispWorks Program Director Julie Tate-Libby. The first is next Tuesday (Feb. 4) from 6-8 p.m. at the Annex Commercial Building, 31 W. Chewuch Road in Winthrop (more familiarly known as the “skate barn”). The discussion topic will be “Affordable Housing: Costs, Needs and Your Employees.” Tate-Libby said business owners and operators are particularly encouraged to come to the sessions, but anyone can participate.
Other meetings are:
• May 6, 6-8 p.m. at Little Star Montessori School in Winthrop, with the topic “Child Care and Employee Needs.”
• Aug. 4, from 6-8 p.m. at MySpace on the TwispWorks campus, with the topic “Benefits: Creative Solutions for your Employees.”
• Nov. 6, 6-8 p.m. at MySpace on the TwispWorks campus, with the topic “Brain Drain and Retaining Methow Youth.”
Each meeting will have a short presentation, followed by a facilitated discussion. Beverages and snacks will be served at each gathering, Tate-Libby said.
In addition, there will be another fall event focused on the role of business in a small community, Tate-Libby said.
“Last year we partnered with University of Washington to understand the real cost of living in the Methow with the Self-Sufficiency Standard and a conversation on living wages,” Tate-Libby said. “This year, we would like to brainstorm solutions to the issues facing employers and employees: housing, child care, benefits and retaining local youth.”
Study of economy
Tate-Libby said the sessions are linked to a yearlong study of the Methow Valley economy that she is spearheading. She said the there is a fair amount of disparate data about the local economy, or facets of it, that she hopes to collect and collate into more-useable information. Elements she will be looking at include the tourism industry, the impacts of more people buying second homes and living here part-time, small businesses, government agencies that provide significant local employment, nonprofits and other commercial enterprises in the valley.
“There are discrepancies in data that need to be reconciled,” Tate-Libby said. “We are looking for more reliable information.”
Student interns will help with some of the data collection. Tate-Libby said she will also reach out to individual business owners and second-home owners for a more-personal take on aspects of the economy. “We need to dig in and get to some people who are not being heard,” she said. That will include people who work from home (about 13% in the Methow, according to an earlier study) but whose employers may be elsewhere so that their true economic contributions are not captured or measured.
TwispWorks is the main driver of the study, Tate-Libby said, but is partnering with local organizations including Room One, the Methow Conservancy and the Methow Housing Trust to generate meaningful data.
“We want to engage issues that are important head-on,” Tate-Libby said.
That will include getting a better understanding of the nature and extent of poverty in the valley (notably, the “working poor” who stitch together a number of jobs to survive), and the general well-being of residents. “We need a healthy population to have a healthy economy,” she said. Tate-Libby said she hopes to develop a “well-being index” for the community. Other necessities also play a role, she said, such as feasible transportation choices for workers.
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Filling empty spaces
One of the goals of TwispWorks’ year-long study of the local economy is to find ways to encourage young people to stay in the valley or to return at some point. To that end, TwispWorks is coordinating a project with Liberty Bell High School students that includes conversations with local business people, TwispWorks Program Director Julie Tate-Libby said.
The students will then be divided into seven groups, each assigned to come up with a viable business plan to fill one of Twisp’s vacant buildings or storefronts. Each group will have to do its own research to propose a business opportunity and explain how it might work. Their ideas will be revealed at a public event in March, Tate-Libby said.
“We hope to get some interesting ideas,” Tate-Libby said. “And they don’t have to be boring.”