Since last year, North Bend, Snoqualmie, Carnation, Duvall and the Snoqualmie Tribe have been slowly working toward an alliance that will partner with the King County Department of Local Services.
The alliance, named the Snoqualmie Valley Economic Alliance, is a seed from a larger unincorporated King County-wide initiative called the Economic Alliance Program.
This program is made up of a partnership between the Department of Local Services and unincorporated communities, which work together to allocate $5.25 million of COVID recovery funds and access grants that will help support small minority businesses impacted by COVID.
SnoValley Chamber of Commerce CEO Kelly Coughlin said the Snoqualmie Valley Economic Alliance — which is still currently being organized — could help streamline the process of applying for grants as well as help preserve the mom-and-pop shops in the Snoqualmie Valley by unifying the cities’ goals and priorities — and in turn, having a greater influence and voice.
“With this economic alliance, we have that voice… and with larger numbers, you get more work done, you get more attention,” Coughlin said. “So, it gives us a bigger playing field than we’ve ever had.”
Coughlin said what led her to spearhead the Snoqualmie Valley Economic Alliance started with an attempt to get fiber optics installed in the lower valley.
Coughlin said COVID highlighted the equity deficit in the lower valley due to the lack of internet connection. Throughout COVID, this affected students and businesses in the lower valley, many of whom are migrant workers.
“They’ve been left alone down there,” she said.
Although Coughlin attempted to work with King County to get a grant to install fiber optics throughout the area, the process was complicated, and she struggled to gain support and the backing needed to receive a grant.
However, she said once the Snoqualmie Valley Economic Alliance finishes organizing internally and signs a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Local Services — which could be as soon as February or March — these grants can become more attainable alongside the funding from the Economic Alliance Program.
“There’s a lot of projects that we need to get done and a lot of things that need to be finalized,” Coughlin said. “But now we actually can make an impact, and none of us are making one decision.”
John Taylor, Director of the King County Department of Local Services, said historically unincorporated areas have a lack of resources. Creating structures like economic alliances that group communities and community organizations together helps refine where the resources are truly needed.
“The more people are working together collaboratively, the more they’re cross-communicating, the more that you begin to see the commonality of needs. It enables us to make decisions about where we marshal resources,” he said.
In February 2023, the Department of Local Services partnered with subcommittees such as the Snoqualmie Valley Economic Alliance to carve out how the Economic Alliance Program can best serve struggling businesses in unincorporated cities.
“The Snoqualmie Valley Economic Alliance is one of the five subcommittees all started from the initial larger coordination within the bi-monthly Unincorporated King County Economic Alliance meetings,” said Anjilee Dodge, the Economic Alliance Program Manager. “From that spurred these groups who wanted to focus in on specialized topics or areas.”
Where the Economic Alliance Program originated from
The Economic Alliance Program was initially created as a partnership between Skyway, White Center and Vashon to partner with the Department of Local Services and revitalize small businesses, especially those owned by BIPOC individuals, women, LGBTQ+, veterans, immigrants, refugees, low-income, limited-English speakers, and those with disabilities disproportionately affected by COVID.
Even before COVID, Skyway and White Center faced historical underservice from the county, Taylor said, and organizations were actively collaborating with the council to channel more funding into their underserved neighborhoods.
Taylor said it was a “perfect storm of terrible” that pushed the King County Council to allocate funds to the cities.
The final push was a mixture of COVID and five fires in the White Center business district — affecting 75 businesses and displacing 12 storefronts from 2020 to 2022 — leaving many businesses struggling to survive.
This is when King County Council allocated $5.25 million in COVID recovery funding to start up the Economic Alliance Program.
While the program originated to address the needs of White Center, Skyway and Vashon, the government required these funds to expand to encompass all unincorporated areas of King County, Taylor said.
Dodge said they spent nearly a year within meetings across unincorporated King County, coming together with economic development partners from Snoqualmie Valley to South King County, establishing services to revitalize businesses disproportionately impacted by COVID.
Although unincorporated King County reaches from urban to rural areas and has vastly different environments, Taylor found they still face similar adversities.
“There’s more commonality between the rural and the urban area than there is a difference when you get down to what the needs are and what the challenges are,” Taylor said. “And the more they talk to one another, the better equipped they are to tackle those challenges.”
This collaboration across the communities created three key focuses within the Economic Alliance Program.
These focuses are the Career Connector, Business Builder and Community Innovator program.
The Career Connector program focuses on connecting people with living wage career and entrepreneurial training, individualized career navigation, and subsidized employment and job training opportunities.
The Business Builder is the technical assistance arm of things Dodge said. This program helps connect small businesses struggling from COVID to coaching and mentorship in accounting, tax, legal, real estate, business administration, information technology, human resources and marketing.
The Community Innovator is the only program focused solely on White Center and Skyway. This focus provides skills training, mentorship, coaching and financial support for businesses in geographic regions disproportionately impacted by COVID.
As of now, the Economic Alliance Program has already begun helping a significant amount of businesses in unincorporated areas.
According to the Department of Local Services, there have been 89 program participants enrolled and receiving support — 66 are Career Connector participants, 16 are Business Builder participants and seven are Community Innovators participants.
The department added they anticipate serving around 200 participants by the end of 2024, which is when the program funds will end.
While the COVID recovery funds are expected to end by late 2024, Dodge said the goal in establishing these alliances is so they can independently thrive with the ongoing partnership of the Department of Local Services, ensuring sustained support for businesses in their respective cities.