An Interview with Dru Garson CEO of Greater Grays Harbor, Inc.
Dru Garson is the CEO for Greater Grays Harbor, Inc. (GGHI), a regional Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Council located in Aberdeen, WA and oversees business recruitment and marketing efforts, downtown revitalization, business retention and expansion, and workforce development initiatives. Before starting with GGHI in 2014, Dru was a Development Specialist for the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development in Juneau, Alaska from 2003 – 2014. As a Development Specialist, he helped establish a statewide Business Retention and Expansion program and also managed cultural tourism and visitor industry product development economic development projects.
What made you decide to enter the profession of economic development?
My interest in economic development first started while serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Togo, West Africa in the mid-1990’s. I was working in an unrelated program area at the time, but as a young adult, it really opened my eyes to the striking contrast between the limited economic opportunities and daily struggles over basic services that occur in Africa in relation to the wealth of opportunities available here in the U.S. After joining the Alaska Department of Commerce, as a Development Specialist in Juneau, AK, I had an amazing opportunity to work on a variety of substantive issues and programs, collaborate with many different organizations and project partners, and learn the intricacies of rural economic development from some outstanding mentors.
What’s your strategy for encouraging economic development?
Our strategic plan for the next three years will focus on developing a formal business retention and expansion program to help retain local businesses, identify and correct constraints to doing business in the Harbor, and provide assistance, referrals, and resources to encourage business expansion. At the same time, we will continue to work closely with the Department of Commerce to identify any potential recruitment projects that closely align with our existing and targeted industry clusters.
Are any efforts being made to encourage entrepreneurship and improve your downtown areas?
Revitalization efforts have led to many positive outcomes over the past few years. For example, the Aberdeen Revitalization Movement has championed beautification efforts – cleaning up the downtown corridor, addressing parking and safety concerns, and development of a seasonal flower program located along the main street to provide a more welcoming environment. In Aberdeen, we are also seeing an uptick in entrepreneurship – as retail, food service, and other types of small businesses are growing in the downtown corridor. Plans for a modern, world-class visitor information center – the Gateway Center for Enterprise and Tourism – have also been gaining momentum and construction could begin as early as 2017-2018. The Enterprise Center component of this project will house the regional economic development council (ADO) and several other business development organizations and is designed to serve as a one-stop business development resource for both residents and visitors alike. The Center will serve as a clearinghouse of information that can assist individuals interested in relocation information, small business planning and development, and regional economic development opportunities within Grays Harbor. The ultimate goal of this project is to disperse visitation throughout the region, create a greater awareness of destinations and attractions in Grays Harbor, attract increased investment and facilitate downtown revitalization efforts, and encourage increased spending and longer stays within the County.