New partnership coordinates economic development projects

Four local Whatcom County organizations recently formed a partnership to improve delivery of economic development services for Whatcom County businesses.

The partnership, called the Whatcom County Consortium for Economic Development, is made up of the Northwest Economic Council (NWEC), the Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce & Industry, and two Western Washington University programs — the Small Business Development Center and the Center for Economic Vitality.

Previously, these organizations competed for limited funds from Whatcom County, the city of Bellingham and the port of Bellingham. Under the new partnership, the four organizations came together — with the NWEC as the grant administrator — to apply for funding, which was recently awarded. Funding will be split among the organizations based on the strengths of each organization, said chamber president and CEO Ken Oplinger.

“For the first time ever, the core economic development organizations are able to partner together to provide services,” Oplinger said. “Each of us has divided up the work that was in the funding requirements based on our strengths.”

The consortium focuses on five key areas of economic development: retention, expansion, recruitment, start-up and research.

This collaboration is an important step for the NWEC and the chamber, which have been talking about merging since November 2010.

“We believe that the consortium is an outstanding step for the council and the chamber in our exploration of partnerships and efficiencies,” Oplinger said in a press release. “We will continue to work with our close partners at NW Econ on ways to serve the business community as effectively as possible.”

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