Executive Director Nancy Jordan leads the way as economic agency redefines itself
The Bellingham/Whatcom Economic Development Council (EDC) nearly folded last year after years of struggling with its identity. In 2006, the EDC board decided to not renew former executive director Robert Pochert’s contract, a move that sent the organization into a period of introspection, examining its relevance to the community and its future course.
Nancy Jordan was hired as the interim executive director while the board pondered whether to disband the organization or reorganize. In the past months, Jordan has seen “interim” dropped from her title, and the EDC is beginning to come out of its self-imposed hibernation.
In August, The Bellingham Business Journal sat down with Jordan to talk about her job, find out what has happened during the EDC’s slumber and predict what the future holds.
BBJ: What is your background? Why did you take on this position?
Jordan: Community is something that is really important to me. I grew up in a small rural community. It’s really important to have a community that works together, and everybody is a part of that. So it’s important to me to see all parts of the community be welcomed and engaged. That means rural, urban, businesses, government — it’s really a mix. I see that this is a unique organization that has an important responsibility of bridging the government services to the private sector businesses.
BBJ: Why was the interim dropped from your name?
Jordan: The interim was a transition period of time. This year, the board has seen the efforts going forward and the things that we’re engaging in. So to continue the solidification that the EDC is here, is strong and is growing stronger, the decision was made to drop the interim to show the strength of the organization.
BBJ: The EDC nearly disbanded last year. How has the organization reinvented itself and what is it doing now?
Jordan: It’s really moving to more of an inclusive style of an organization. We’re working on a reorganization of our membership structure as we speak. We’re looking at broadening the membership and opening things up for a broader base of community input and communication between partnerships and memberships.
BBJ: What is the EDC’s new strategy?
Jordan: The new strategy is having collaborative partnerships; leveraging all the assets and strengths we have in our community, which are numerous; and working together to become a better team. That’s really the basis for where we’re going.
BBJ: What kind of support can the EDC offer to existing business organizations?
Jordan: Part of it is partnering and supporting the work all of the agencies, groups and technicians in the community. The EDC offers a fair amount of information on our website — resources and links — which will be increasing and expanding as we go along. We also have a revolving loan fund and we are working with others to bring in alternative funding sources for those businesses that are just outside the commercial banking structure. We support Whatcom County political leaders by working with them on their economic development investment fund.
We’ll also be increasing the real estate section of our website over time. We have some information and data-gathering techniques and tools we’re using in our business expansion and retention program. We work very closely with Hart Hodges at the Center for Economic and Business Research to figure out and learn about industry sectors in our community. We also offer some direct services to our clients in that we help them coordinate what they need in accessing some public opportunities in procurement. We also have a liaison to help them get access to government services and engage into the community. All of this will be increasing as we grow the organization.
BBJ: Why does the EDC play a support role for businesses, rather than being out in front?
Jordan: We do definitely know that the businesses are what support and drive this community. The businesses and private sector create jobs that invest into this community. There’s a lot of other investment that goes along, but without the basic corps of good jobs, and the investments those private sector folks are making, our community couldn’t be what it is.
BBJ: Why has the focus shifted to retaining local businesses rather than bringing in new businesses?
Jordan: Partly because we have so much talent and so many good businesses that have a lot of needs as well. We realize most of the new jobs come from existing businesses. We also will help any company and assist them if they have questions about relocation. We support relocation of any company.
BBJ: What is the financing structure of the EDC?
Jordan: We get both public and private dollars, and the estimated mix is about 60/40.
BBJ: Who have been the EDC’s biggest supporters?
Jordan: Both from the public and private sectors, the county, the city, the state, the port, the small cities. Numerous members of our private sector have stepped up and have been consistently supportive.
BBJ: Are you looking for new funding sources?
Jordan: We’re very pleased with the Legislature this year that they were able to offer some additional funding. We also look to partner with other entities with logical projects that will serve the community. One, for example, is the marine cluster project, a collaboration of four counties and 14 entities that looked at our regional marine industry to identify the needs and possible solutions for the dynamic industry in our region.
BBJ: The Skagit Valley Economic Development Agency seems to be active and successful. What have they done to be so successful?
Jordan: There’s a strong collaborative relationship among many of the participants, the technicians and the leaders in the community. My experience was invaluable. Economic development is a team sport — it requires a lot of partnerships and a lot of working together. Working with EDASC is where I got a lot of my background in economic development.
BBJ: Can the Bellingham/Whatcom EDC learn from their example?
Jordan: Yes, and we’re already incorporating that example and others in our partnerships and services. We have the regional marine project that was completed. We have a practitioners group that gathers on a monthly basis. There’s a good cross-collaboration, and what I’m seeing is beginning to grow. I think that’s always been here, but I know that kind of relationship is welcomed from all of our partners.
BBJ: Are there differences between the economic climate in Whatcom and Skagit?
Jordan: Yes, by virtue of the fact that Skagit County has seven small cities and Whatcom County has one large and six small cities. So we have a real different makeup. Whatcom County is more like the state of Washington when you look at King County and all the rest of the state.
BBJ: What’s the plan for the next year at the EDC?
Jordan: Continuing to strengthen the programs that we do have in place — our communication tools for the community and for the businesses. And then also to communicate more of the opportunities so people can have access to them.
Bio on Nancy Jordan
Name: Nancy Jordan
Title: Executive Director of the Bellingham/Whatcom Economic Development Council
Hometown: A little community called Helvetia, near Hillsboro, Ore.
Alma mater: Oregon State University, majored in animal science and business
Past jobs/positions/businesses: I grew up on a dairy farm, so I was a life-long part of the family farm. After college I went to work for the Farm Credit Services as a commercial loan officer. I came up to Whatcom County in 1983 as a commercial loan officer and appraiser with Farm Credit Services and then moved up to Peoples State Bank for a short time. In the early 1990s I moved up to economic and community development and worked for the Economic Development Association of Skagit County (EDASC).
Family: Lives with her husband, Travis, in Bellingham
How to reach her: 676-4255, firstname.lastname@example.org