EVERETT — Unanimous member support for the new Economic Alliance Snohomish County has moved the group another step closer to submitting its formal corporate merger plan to Washington’s Secretary of State’s Office in May.
Everett Area Chamber of Commerce members voted strongly to approve
“Since we announced the organization’s name in April, comments to me have been very positive,” said Troy McClelland, EASC’s chief executive officer and president. “Typically I hear things like ‘It says what you do’ and ‘I was relieved that it was not nonsensical or trendy.’ I’ve been told there have been some comments that it wasn’t fresh enough but those seem to be in the minority and the people didn’t have any alternative name to offer.”
McClelland said all of the board chairs for the three groups — the Economic Development Council of Snohomish County, Everett Area Chamber of Commerce and the South Snohomish County Chamber of Commerce — are supportive, as are the CEOs for the three groups.
All three boards have voted for the consolidation and the memberships of the EDC and south county chamber have expressed their support. Everett Area Chamber of Commerce members voted solid support for the EASC merger in its April 29 balloting, a vote required by its bylaws, clearing the way for the EASC to file its merger application with the Washington Secretary of State’s office.
Everett Chamber President and CEO Louise Stanton-Masten said the merger is expected to provide “great benefit for all of our members.”
“Our collaborative approach will result in broader reach and stronger outcomes for business and economic development, services and support,” she said. “We look forward to the continued engagement of our members in this new organization.”
EDC Board Chairman Rick Cooper, president of The Everett Clinic, said people he’s talked to “are looking forward to bringing closure to the consolidation process and creating our new organization.”
“Much remains to be done related to governance, creating new boards, developing our work plan and growing EASC but you can feel the enthusiasm,” he said. “Many people have volunteered already and say they are excited to make a positive difference. For those who want to make a difference in improving our economic future, we look forward to have you join Economic Alliance Snohomish County.”
“Once those votes are counted, we expect to submit a plan of merger to the state for approval,” McClelland said. “In parallel, we have people working on work plans for the merger, branding and similar issues. The plan could be approved in 30 days or even a week or two, we just don’t know yet.”
He elaborated on the progress of the merger in an April 19 interview, telling the SCBJ, “Ninety percent of the strong feedback on the process has been very favorable. … From some there was almost a sigh of relief to know the EASC wasn’t trying for a cliche name or something that sounded really meaningless.”
McClelland said the name choice had to be flexible, specific to Snohomish County but easily recognizable in the region. Many potential names were tested during the process and feedback consistently supported EASC.
“Economic Alliance Snohomish County is serviceable and indicates we are not part of a formal government or an enterprise of the county,” he said. “We used a really good evaluation process that sifted through a lot of options.”
“Even after we get approval from the Secretary of State, nothing will change operationally until other things are completed,” he said. “We’ve already been holding joint organizational meetings so that all three groups are working on the organizational, marketing and financial parts of the merger. We’re operating in an environment of consolidation already, which allows us to have a more clear conversation with investors and stakeholders about the future.”
It’s a lot of extra work presently, he said, because each group is still operating separately, but in many ways the EASC is also operating as one organization in preparation for the coming merger.
“Once it’s approved by the state, the complexity of operating as three separate organizations goes away,” McClelland said. “Right now we have to function on both sides as we move ahead. The staff is working very hard on putting the new organization together and, as much as we can, we’re operating in that capacity so we’ll be well prepared for the change.”
From his personal viewpoint, McClelland said he’s “thankful for the support” and thinks his background in the military and corporate fields has served him well in putting together the initial map of process.
“It’s been a dynamic map as we’ve come to understand the complexities more,” he said. “I do feel good about that process. Most people tell me they think the process is moving along well. Those who don’t think so are usually people who don’t understand all of the complexities. The closer we get to the merger, the more layers of complexity there are.”
He said by June 30 he thinks EASC will be ahead of the “plan of merger schedule,” which has been “an aggressive process” with a timetable focusing on mid-summer 2011.
“I feel particularly good about our progress and people’s commitment to working through addressing all of the issues to get to the next step with a clear understanding of what must be done and our timetables for establishing each step,” he said.
As for a location for the EASC, McClelland said it’s entirely “too early” to be thinking about it. The focus has been on establishing the new enterprise. Pragmatically, he said, there are leases, landlords and stakeholders with varying views to consider.
“To make the location a major issue now is missing the point that there are lots of other more important things to be concerned about,” McClelland said.
John Monroe, interim president of the Economic Development Council of Snohomish County, said he shares McClelland’s view of progress.
“When you look at how far we have come since January 2010, the progress is simply amazing,” Monroe said. “This was not a simple exercise. We had, and still have, three sets of everything: people, processes, cultures, names, missions, facilities, boards and committees, financials, bylaws and tax structures.”
Everything had to come together while respecting the individual identities of each organization, he said.
“Fortunately for us, we chose the right leader, one with experience in mergers and acquisitions, a true believer in working together and, more importantly, one that is well respected by the business community and our elected officials,” Monroe said.
“EASC has an economic and community development model that focuses our resources, such as infrastructure, quality of life, trained workforce and incentives, on strategies such as recruitment, retention, expansion and start-ups with specific goals of jobs, wealth and tax revenue,” Monroe said. “It’s simple to state but a little more of a challenge to execute. This merger needs to be a collaborative, inclusive effort. … It is not just about you and me, it is about … all of us.”
Stan Finley, director of franchising and government affairs for Comcast Cable in Everett and board chairman of the South Snohomish County Chamber of Commerce, said the name was “derived through a process involving the community as well as the multi-organizations’ participants. … (Being comfortable with) the unfamiliar name will smooth out in time.”
Finley said every member he’s spoken with has been impressed that the well-planned process “has taken us to where we are in such a short time. … We owe a debt of gratitude to the staffs of the three organizations and the leadership of the respective boards for their untiring belief in the future of this organization and the potential of our community.”
Jean Hales, president and CEO of the south county chamber, said she thinks that “to some of members it seems to be taking way too long. … Unless you’ve actually been through a merger you have no idea of what is entailed.”
She said she has no doubt that over time Economic Alliance Snohomish County will have a profoundly positive impact on the greater community.
Stanton-Masten said all of the comments she’s heard in recent months have been “overwhelmingly positive not only from members but from new businesses that have joined in the last month or two because they want to be part of this countywide organization. … I think that’s a very positive comment on the way the business community is dealing with this new organization.”
She said supporters of the merger have been encouraged by Spokane’s successful similar merger of its EDC and chamber, the establishment of a similar group in Ellensburg and a pending merger involving Bellingham and Whatcom County business groups.
The Everett chamber’s board chairman, Mark Lewinski of Kirtley-Cole, said most people he’s talked to “believe this will be beneficial to their businesses. … I urge businesses to embrace this new entity as it will strengthen the region and, ultimately, our businesses.”
For the first time, the new group is co-sponsoring a luncheon meeting May 4 at the Lynnwood Convention Center, a program held each year by the South Snohomish County Chamber of Commerce. “Perspectives on the Economy” will feature panelists Arun Raha, Washington state chief economist; Michael Parks, a regional economist and editor emeritus of Marple’s Letter; and Cort O’Haver, executive vice president of commercial banking at Umpqua Holdings Corp. Everett Herald publisher Allen Funk will moderate the discussion.