Techniques of asset-based community and economic development exercised by Southwest Washington residents in recently completed Leadership Conference

LONG BEACH - "Great conference!" "Life altering." "Bravo!" "I didn't think that it was going to open so many new ideas! Our group has already developed a plan."

These were some of the comments shared by over 125 attendees at last week's Leadership Conference in Long Beach. Business and community leaders from Pacific and Wahkiakum counties gathered at a first-in-the-nation leadership summit hosted by the two counties' economic development councils.

Led by Linda Rotmark of the Pacific County EDC and Ken Scholes of the Lower Columbia EDC, participants were immersed in learning the skills of asset-based development, where individuals formed community and industry cluster teams to generate breakthrough ideas for growth and development by mapping their collective resources.

A diverse panel of speakers led the skills training. Maury Forman, representing the Washington State Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development, challenged attendees to "acknowledge your unique wants and needs, and recognize that change will not be imposed from beyond, but driven from within."

Karen Bertroch, director of Community Resources in Wahkiakum County, echoed these words by admonishing attendees to "become stewards of ourselves and our community. The challenge of leadership is to 'establish examples' and 'vision the future."

Luther Snow, on the faculty of the Asset-Based Community Development Institute and author of several workbooks on the subject, coached participants in the methodology of mapping individual and community resources.

"Development is about creating links between two or more existing assets. It's an 'open sum' game, where one plus one can actually equal three!" Snow's message was one of encouragement to rural areas such as southwest Washington. "Our world is becoming a larger place, where globalization means the flexible networking of independent businesses across large distances. Hey, this is what you already know how to do as a rural community!"

Demonstrating how progress in community-driven asset development can create dramatic differences, Michael Wisdom, executive director of the San Luis Valley Development Resources Group in Alamosa, Colo., shared personal stories of how small groups of inspired citizens combined to build a community center. "Break the rules and challenge the assumptions. Community goals can be achieved. Broad community inclusiveness is key; everyone can add something."

Closer to home, Washington's Clallam County EDC Director Jim Haguewood, presented the results of three years of industry cluster development on the Olympic Peninsula.

"We began by taking a step back, and reflecting on what problems we wanted to solve. Keys to success are three: (1) adopt a cluster strategy, (2) encourage and nurture entrepreneurism, and (3) use what you have and 'look inside' for value-added opportunities." In Clallam County, specific goals are set for each cluster group and progress measured against a ten-year time horizon.

Participants self-selected themselves into cluster teams to inventory their individual and community assets. The asset-mapping exercise inspired each group to envision new projects, business expansions, or collaboration opportunities for community development. Over a dozen teams formed and began work on real community and business development projects. The broad and varied projects reflect the diverse community interests of the participants, as represented by some of the project summaries described below:

• "GHC on the Columbia," an initiative to build an expanded educational center for Grays Harbor College local to Pacific and Wahkiakum counties.

• "Youthworks" advanced computer training and outreach program for young adults, product-branding and merchandising cooperative for Willapa Bay products, "Discovery Coast Tours," to link southwest Washington to tour programs and activities in Oregon, particularly those related to the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial.

• "City of South Bend Angels," who will act as a citizens' action group for positive change.

• "Youth Built Senior Assistance," to provide vocational training for area youth in support of property rejuvenation for elderly residents.

• "Southwest Washington Port Consortium" to share assets and expertise among area port authorities, as well as energize regional fishery and seafood processing businesses.

• "People, Power, and Adventures," aimed at increasing awareness and value-added opportunities for outdoor recreation enthusiasts.

• "Lower Columbia Arts Trek," providing local artists the opportunity to collectively leverage their marketing programs for better effectiveness and tourism leverage.

More information on the conference can be found online at Tapes of the speakers' commentary and copies of the workshop materials are available through the Pacific County EDC 642-9330 or 875-9330.

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