An Interview with Lynn Longan
Economic Development Council of Mason County
Lynn Longan is the Executive Director for the Economic Development Council of Mason County. Lynn started her journey in economic development in 1998 with the Business Development unit of the Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development (CTED). While her time with the state is a strong part of her effectiveness, her career has covered many industries from logging to road construction to tree farm to commercial shellfish, helping her to lead project teams to develop industrial and commercial lands for business expansion and recruitment activities and to develop an environment of progress.
She is a fourth generation Mason County resident and is very active in the community. She has a passion for service, being very active in Kristmas Town Kiwanis, Toys for Kids Plus and Relay for Life. She also has a mission to improve the business climate and quality of life for our kids, grandkids, and future generations by bringing in new businesses while helping current industry grow.
Mason County has suffered a number of setbacks with a number of layoffs in the forest products industry in the last few months. What you are doing in the face of mill layoffs?
Working … working a lot! In a rural community, when a major employer shuts down, you sit down and breathe deep. Additionally, another major employer has announced their shutdown of 235 jobs in the spring of 2016. You can feel the shock wave move through your community as you think about the total 500+ employees that are now going to be back in the job market as well as the additional impacts to your area.
Mason County residents and regional partners have been so inspiring to me! We have a desire to survive and to come out ahead of where we were. The day after the announcement, I met with Pacific Mountain Workforce Development Council and Simpson representatives to discuss a multi-step plan of action with workforce being the most immediate need. From there, we created a transition team with representatives from the community, labor unions, rapid response leaders, local, state and federal representatives, and workforce organizations to really support the workers and help them identify and prepare for new opportunities.
A resource fair was held 60 days after the Simpson announcement. Simpson employees, their families and other businesses that may be impacted by the closure were invited to come and speak with people about what resources would be available to them when and if they needed them. The local businesses supported the event in many ways including providing lunch for all attendees. We had such an outpouring of businesses wanting to offer job opportunities that the first hiring event was held not long after. We had approximately 50 businesses and over 300 job seekers attend. In order for a business to participate in the hiring event, they had to be actively hiring for at least three positions. This was followed with the opening of the WorkSource Transition Center that is staffed with experts to continue to help these transitioning workers.
With a place established to support the workers, the EDC has moved to helping Sierra Pacific Industries as they work through demolishing and rebuilding their state-of-the-art facility on the Shelton Waterfront. They have a tight deadline to get up and running to make the project viable. This is something that the EDC is focused on seeing accomplished!
Are there any new initiatives you are working on that can get your county back to recovery for the long term?
While this is a very challenging time, it has afforded us the opportunity to look within our community and to identify what we have and what we need for today and the future. Encouraging entrepreneurship through small business formation and expansion is a prominent goal for Mason County, as new and small businesses provide the majority of new jobs. During these periods of change, many individuals turn to self-employment.
We see a large and growing need for entrepreneur, startup, and business services and we are working hard with the Department of Commerce to improve our local technical services infrastructure to help support the success of our local businesses. We are working towards building a business resource center in conjunction with the states Startup Washington program that will work with entrepreneurs and businesses during all stages of their development – from start up through growth and succession planning. As part of that we are bringing a microenterprise program to Mason County, in partnership with Enterprise for Equity and Washington State University Mason County Extension, that will help with business planning, technical assistance and support services to help people increase their income, confidence, and financial security.
We are starting pilot program for economic gardening which is a program that helps existing companies within a community grow larger by focusing on strategic growth challenges, such as developing new markets, refining business models and gaining access to competitive intelligence. It will help identify which issues are hindering their growth and then leverage tools to deliver insights and information that can apply immediately.
Lastly, we are working with our schools so the youth will either stay in the community after graduation or return after they have gained more knowledge and experience. We are all born with the ability to think innovatively. We are helping to exercise that thought process with youth business plan competitions, entrepreneurship camps, and Lemonade Day programs. This is about thinking and doing something that we have not done before, in order to achieve a more desirable goal. These programs help our youth assess a situation, design alternatives, and maybe choose a different way that, in the end, will strengthen and grow our community.
You have worked in economic development both at the state level and local level. What wisdom do you have about the relationships between commerce and economic developers?
Two words: TRUST and PARTNERSHIP… There is so much work to be done and the amount of fires I need to have an iron in is unbelievable. I have to be able to TRUST my lead agency (Commerce) to make sure I am clued in to opportunities as well as apprised of burning issues that may affect the economy of my county. In turn, Commerce needs to be able to trust that I am fulfilling the obligations that go with being the state appointed ADO. We all know how many local PARTNERSHIPS we need in order to get stuff done and it’s no different with the state. I rely very heavily on my partnership with Commerce. I can tell you that Commerce employees are the most dedicated and hard-working bunch. Almost always, these people are in these jobs because they have a passion for what they do and are striving to serve our communities.
What can you tell people who are just entering into the economic development profession?
Where do I start? I am so blessed to be able to say I’ve been working with the ADOs since the early 90’s. I’ve been able to witness really great efforts as well as some failures. By doing so, I don’t have to recreate the wheel and I can learn from other’s mistakes. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to communicate, communicate, and communicate! When people do not know what we are doing, they will either assume we are doing nothing or they will make it up. I spend a lot of my time communicating!