An Interview with Don Wick
Economic Development Association of Skagit County
It is impossible to be in a meeting with Don Wick without being entertained by his witty humor, plays on words or creative rhymes. Spend an evening with him and you will more than likely be singing karaoke or quoting poetry. If only one word could describe Don, it would be “character”. But that wouldn’t be fair to him. In fact he is more than “a” character. He is also a man “of” character. He is smart, passionate, and sincere and he has 28 years or experiences as the Executive Director of the Economic Development Association of Skagit County that will come to an end on July 31, 2015. His resume is endless with successes of recruitments and expansions. Be entertained one last time as he gives us the not so secret reason why he has been able to leave a lasting impression on his community, the state and everyone he meets.,
What two accomplishments are you most proud of?
Hiring great people & building partnerships.
Hiring great people – the people that work at EDASC are the central reason for our success. The most important part of the job of the executive director is to hire bright, competent, hardworking individuals. Then get out of their way. Two essential qualities: Is the candidate resourceful and is that person nice. If they’re resourceful they will create their own rendezvous with destiny. And, if they are nice they will get along with the rest of the staff and form healthy relationships in the community.
Building partnerships – Helen Keller once said, “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” The other accomplishment that is essential is developing and fostering partnerships. Relationships are everything, starting with the state Department of Commerce and continuing with other governmental entities, local and regional community organizations, educational institutions, associations, businesses, and individuals. There is nothing more important in carrying out the mission of economic development.
The tremendous success that we have had in recruiting companies and assisting existing businesses is owed to an excellent staff and to the many, many partners that have brought such a spirit of cooperation and collaboration to the table to ensure that good quality jobs are created and preserved in our community.
Your organization has started a number of programs over the years. What are the ones that primarily have led to EDASC’s success?
We have a very active Business Attraction and Business Retention programs. We have 2 business advisors on our staff. One is supported in part by the SBDC and the Department of Commerce, the other on a contract with Skagit County. We do numerous business workshops and seminars each month. Other programs: NextExec – a mentorship program for “young professionals”. There are 80 members; Next Tech – a partnership with Mount Vernon is a program for local technology companies – 50-80 at each monthly luncheon; Latino Business Retention & Expansion – focused on providing services to Latino owned businesses; Leadership Skagit – a community leadership program formed in partnership with Skagit Valley College and Washington State University.
What are the most significant changes that have occurred during your tenure?
Technology, especially in communications. From stone tablets to space book. A rolodex, a notepad, mail delivery and analog phones were at the foundation of our communication system. Today, its e-mail, a Web-page, Facebook, Twitter, and smart phones that provide the backbone of our system. But, it is not the latest app on a smart phone, the color of the maps on our website or the rapid tweets that we value the most, it is the people of our great community. It’s the people of Skagit County and the region working together collaborating in partnerships that is our greatest tool in attracting and assisting business. That has never changed.
What advice would you give new people entering the profession?
First, this is a great profession that most of us find by accident. I usually don’t associate the word “accident” with the word “lucky.” But it sure fits here. In my observation of successful economic development professionals I have come to the conclusion that they are successful because of two essential qualities. They are competitive and they are collaborative.
These two qualities don’t always go together. But to be successful in this field, you need both. Competitive, driven, self-starter—this profession requires a lot of drive, enthusiasm and energy. Recruiting companies is a low percentage sales proposition. You need that competitive, enthusiastic spirit to lead the charge in your community. And, collaboration and cooperation—a collaborative approach is required to build healthy relationships in your community or in the state and region
And, of course, always share the credit. Successful economic development cannot be done by either one person or one group. We hear that all the time yet the competition for resources ignores the fact that it takes a village. Someone once said “There’s no limit to the good a person can do, if that person doesn’t care who gets the credit.” And one interesting note. Experts cannot solidly verify who uttered those words. Apparently, the responsible party was unconcerned about getting the credit.
If you have or can develop and foster these qualities—go for it. It is an engaging, dynamic profession. It arrives with challenges, but the opportunities to build community and provide quality jobs are endless. It is richly rewarding.
What do you plan to do in retirement?
I am not sure. One issue that is disturbing: The city has declared my retirement program illegal. Yes, they outlawed panhandling at the freeway exit.
In reality, I am going to focus on doing volunteer work in a number of areas that are important to me. This includes helping start a Kiwanis Club for developmentally disabled adults; working with our Skagit River Poetry Foundation to bring poetry and creative writing as a healing tool into juvenile detention, alternative schools and prisons, and working on issues related to poverty and mental health. I also want to be able to continue to contribute to this profession and perhaps do some part time work in economic development or a related field.
Do you have a parting limerick about your retirement?
Retirement for some means migration
For others a brand new vocation
But some have been swift
To send me a gift
Of a totally pre-paid cremation.