An Interview with Chris Green
Assistant Director, Office of Economic Development & Competitiveness
“The circle is now complete. When I left you, I was but the learner. Now I am the master”. Some of you may recognize that quote from Darth Vader in the 1977 Star Wars film. But that quote may also apply to the new Assistant Director for the Office of Economic Development and Competitiveness at the Washington State Department of Commerce. It was more than 10 years ago when Chris Green enrolled in Maury’s Northwest Basic Economic Development Course in Ellensburg. Washington. In that time he has gone from an eager and bright young student to an experienced economic developer and his immediate supervisor.
During that time, Chris most recently served as VP of the Economic Development Board for Tacoma-Pierce County. He has also worked for Sen. Derek Kilmer and Congressman Norm Dicks. He brings a broad perspective on economic development that includes numerous successes for Tacoma- Pierce County, none of which I can take credit for as his initial instructor. Fortunately he is no Darth Vader and OEDC is looking forward to his leadership in the coming year. Read what he has learned over the years and what he thinks of the move from being a local economic developer to leading the state’s role of growing jobs in Washington state.
You have been at commerce for less than a month. What surprises you most about the organization or working at the state level in economic development
So far, the most impressive thing has been gaining a more complete understanding of all of the incredible work that is produced by the Office of Economic Development and Competitiveness. The entire team at OEDC is exceptional and is a great assembly of talent in local, national and international business development. Coming from the private sector side of economic development, there are some noticeable differences in working for the state’s economic development office. By necessity there is more of an orientation toward process as a framework for each transactional project that we work on – which may seem cumbersome from an outside perspective at times, but can be a valuable structure for the delivery of our goals and outcomes. While the private sector Associate Development Organization system I am most familiar with has the advantage of being more nimble in its ability to react to local development opportunities, it does not always have the capacity to take on the largest projects. To me, the contrast between the two different organizational ecosystems is the essence of what makes such a great partnership between the ADOs and Commerce.
What can commerce do to be a better partner to our economic development organization partners?
The ADO network is the most important system in our state for local economic development. In every local area of the state there is team of people that wake up every day and say, ‘what can we do to create jobs in Moses Lake, or Vancouver, or Bellingham.’ That is invaluable. Without the great work that is done building and developing great communities at the local level, our state could not have the success it has had. The best way Commerce can be a good partner to economic development organizations around the state is to have a great line of communication. It is really important that we have a sophisticated understanding of the opportunities and challenges for every community. One of my top goals in my first three to six months is to visit each ADO to have a conversation about the economic landscape of each community and how Commerce can support the good work they do.
As a former employee of an economic development organization, what did you think worked well at Commerce and could be considered as a best practice?
Commerce has a unique ability to open doors and create opportunities for both investment in communities and trade opportunities. The work that the trade team has done here under Mark Calhoon’s leadership in exposing Washington firms to foreign markets has created hundreds of millions in new export sales revenue. As well, the STEP Grant program has been an undisputed success in providing access to trade for small businesses that would not have otherwise had that chance. Additionally, there is a significant amount of work that goes into development of the recruitment and expansion pipeline of opportunities on the Business Development team, led by Allison Clark. In many cases it takes a few years of communication with firms from around the world about investing in Washington. To complement their work, Robb Zerr and his creative and talented marketing team have created great support materials that tell our story not only domestically but also internationally. What makes them even more valuable is that all the work is done in house which has allowed them work directly with their colleagues to deliver a more accurate message. On the budgetary side, this has saved the department hundreds of thousands of dollars by not contracting with an outside agency as many other states have done. Finally, our Key Sector Leads are able to address the policy side of economic development, allowing us to effectively align our legislative priorities with our local economic development partners and the Governor’s office. These are examples of some of the great work that is done here.
What was one of the best things you learned from a mentor?
Be yourself. Know what you are good at and know what you need to improve upon. It is a pretty simple principle but it’s one that has been valuable to me in my career so far.
What’s the best thing about being in this profession?
No two days are alike. Every day there is a new challenge or opportunity somewhere in Washington. Terry Lawhead has done an excellent job of keeping the department aware of those challenges and opportunities in the rural and disaster stricken areas by listening to our partners’ needs and concerns and working with them. I am most interested in traveling with Terry and getting in touch with the local economic development leaders around the state to learn how we can leverage resources to encourage new job growth and to help in areas where there is much needed economic recovery following the loss of a key employer or a natural disaster. I have worked mostly in urban markets in my career so I am looking forward to also seeing how we can assist and support some of the more rural parts of the state that have a different set of strengths and helping them maximize their potential.
What is your guiding principle for good management?
There are quite a few that are really valuable guideposts, but two in particular are leading by example, by putting the work in and being accountable to everyone; and making sure everyone has a chance to demonstrate their value to the organization. There are so many skilled people at OEDC in a variety of areas and they are all making considerable contributions to the Washington state economy.