A return to in-person gathering and an energized two-day crowd helped spearhead Innovia Foundation’s annual Leadership Summit and Annual Reception on May 16 and 17 in downtown Spokane.
The summit was held at the Davenport Grand Hotel on Monday and Tuesday with the Annual Reception at the Spokane Convention Center Monday evening.
At the reception, Innovia CEO Shelly O’Quinn unveiled LaunchNW, a comprehensive post-secondary initiative that will provide scholarship dollars to every high school student in Innovia’s 20-county coverage area.
“The vision of LaunchNW is to advance opportunity, prosperity and growth in our region,” she said.
A community and economic vitality initiative, LaunchNW uses a supported promise scholarship as an incentive and change agent to transform the trajectory of our communities beginning in fall 2024.
In addition to the announcement, more than 350 Leadership Summit attendees were treated to a renowned group of speakers recognized nationally and regionally.
Regional economists Grant Forsyth and Sam Wolkenhauer took turns providing high-level overviews of international, national and local economies in informative and entertaining fashion. In our region, Grant, the Chief Economist with Avista Corp., and Sam, the Regional Labor Economist for the Public Affairs Bureau of the Idaho Department of Labor, says the Inland Northwest is experiencing in-migration primarily from Western Washington.
“There are a lot of people moving around regionally,” Grant said. “Stevens County growth is being driven by Spokane County departures.”
Conversely, Spokane County growth is being fueled by departing residents from King, Pierce and Snohomish counties on the west side.
Following them, Dr. Lindsay Hastings from the University of Nebraska Lincoln shared researcher’s findings from their state. While it is widely known that the U.S. is amid wealth transfer from the baby boomer generation, which is the impetus of Innovia Foundation’s 5% campaign. However, another finding emerged from the studies.
“Not only did we discover that there will be a wealth transfer, but in the workforce, there will be a transfer of more than half of all management positions to the next generation,” said Dr. Lindsay, a Clifton Professor of Mentoring Research and Research Director NHRI Leadership Mentoring in Nebraska.
The lunch address was presented by Erin Jones, an independent Education and Systems Consultant, who once worked as a teacher at Rogers High School in Spokane. She shared her personal story of a challenging but inspirational childhood of being a girl of African American descent adopted by white parents who eventually moved their family to Netherlands to escape many elements of racism in the U.S. Erin provided attendees with some tips on how to move forward as leaders in difficult times, a few of which included expressing gratitude, displaying courage and engaging in self care.
John Gomperts, former CEO of America’s Alliance, presented the keynote address at the Annual Reception and shared his belief that every leader in a community has a “vital role to play” to ensure all children have a chance to lead productive and successful lives.
To start the summit’s second day, Ben Small, the newly appointed Executive Director of LaunchNW, shared his personal story of growing up with meager means, yet, having a childhood and early adulthood where there were no shortages of seemingly “little things” done for him that ultimately provided validation for him that all children need.
Ben said he would have been an ideal candidate for LaunchNW. Of the initiative, he said, “We can create transformational change in this region.”
Despite the dazzling speaker lineup, event participants were presented with several opportunities to discuss presentations among each other both during and at their conclusions.
A LaunchNW panel discussion featured Ben, Shelly and John in addition to Gene Chasin and Sam Radford, who serve as consultants to Innovia in the establishment of the region’s initiative. The panel was moderated by Donnie Turlington of Guilford County, North Carolina, a community which hosts ‘Say Yes’, a post-secondary vocational initiative on which LaunchNW is based.
Said Gene, the former Chief Operating Officer to Say Yes to Education, Inc., “Please, be patient. This initiative is a marathon… not a sprint.”
Sam, representing Say Yes – Buffalo, said it has been “exciting and refreshing” to hear young people in his community having conversations with each other about having “definitive” plans for their next steps after high school.
For many years, Buffalo’s high school graduation rate hovered around 50%, but last year the public-school system saw three-fourths of high school seniors graduate on time.
Jim and Deb Fallows gave the lunch address on the second day centered on the theme, ‘This is HOW Communities Build Opportunity.’
Career journalists, the Fallows have spent more than the past decade traveling to small towns and interviewing residents about what they think makes their communities thrive. It is their observation from their travels and interviews that the most vibrant communities have the following in common.
- Strong public institutions particularly libraries.
- Possess an engaged and vibrant public arts climate
- Value schools for education as well as for community gathering centers.
Innovia Foundation is proud to have presented a robust program of events and speakers and would like to thank our sponsors for their generous support and participation.