Economy snapshot not pretty
Spokane's economic needs shock Patty Grossman.
The Seattle-based consultant has spent years working with community development organizations, but says she was taken aback when she started working with the Spokane Neighborhood Economic Development Alliance. By any number of indicators -- foreclosures, federal school lunch subsidies, methamphetamine busts -- the city is starkly impoverished, she says.
"The picture we can paint of the city of Spokane and how economic tools can help is graphic," says Grossman, who has been retained by SNEDA to do just such an illustration.
SNEDA works through Spokane's four community centers to provide technical and financial assistance to small businesses. Last month, Executive Director H. Eric Loewe was scratching for $50,000 to pay a high-powered consultant who could draft a strong grant application for the New Markets Tax Credit Program. With $3.5 billion in income tax credits available from the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Loewe hoped to retain a grant writer who had been successful in an earlier round of funding. When that effort fell short, SNEDA's board hired Grossman, who already works with the group on some other issues.
"She is top of the line," Loewe says. Grossman was available for less than $10,000 because of her ongoing relationship with SNEDA, and because much of the cost of the major consultants was expenses that working with Grossman will not engender.
Grossman, who works out of her home, has eye-popping credentials. A graduate of Smith College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she has worked for Burroughs Corp., Digital Equipment Corp., CBS Inc. and Security Pacific Bank. Long a volunteer for nonprofit organizations, in 1991 Grossman became executive director of the Cascadia Revolving Fund, which makes small loans -- the average amount is $26,000 -- to businesses in Washington and Oregon. In 1997, Cascadia was awarded the first Presidential Award of Excellence in Micro-enterprise Lending.
Grossman now works with other organizations hoping to emulate Cascadia's success. SNEDA can garner some of the tax credits, which will go to those who invest in low-income areas, but must make a compelling case, she says.
Grossman scored some of the more than 300 applications submitted by community groups seeking tax credits in the first round. Those credits were awarded in March.
She says Spokane should score well based on the quality of the SNEDA staff and board, the obvious need in the community, and the tax credits' potential to help boost the economy.
SNEDA officials want to focus on downtown real estate projects, as well as those in the East Central and near North Side neighborhoods. Grossman says enough projects are out there to show that the credits could be put to work advantageously.
The snag, she says, could be a lack of investors who can make use of the credits, which shelter income should a venture succeed, or provide some relief from losses if they fail.
"I'm not sure the investors are there," Grossman says. "That's what we're furiously working on."
Unlike some of the pricier firms SNEDA might have worked with, Grossman adds, she does not have connections in the investment community that she can bring to worthy projects.
She says the Treasury Department wants the New Markets program to produce results. Officials will be reluctant to allocate credits to communities that may not be able to put them to use.
And SNEDA itself is a young organization without experience with such programs, Grossman says.
Despite the obstacles, she says SNEDA has a shot if the grant application effectively paints a picture of a community in need of the support the tax credits provide, and the capacity to take advantage of them.
Grossman says she can do both.
"I would not be doing this if I didn't think we have a decent chance," she says, noting she seldom writes grants.
The applications are due Sept. 30. Grossman's imprint on SNEDA's will undoubtedly help. She just needs some developers and investors to fill in the blanks.
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