An Interview with Roni Holder-Diefenbach
Executive Director of the Economic Alliance
Roni Holder-Diefenbach is the Executive Director of the Economic Alliance, the designated Associate/Economic Development Organization for Okanogan County since 2007. Roni grew up in Omak, left after graduation to attend college and returned after living in Spokane and deciding that Okanogan County is a great place to work and to raise a family. Roni worked for the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Indian Reservation as the Lead Job Development Specialist when they first obtained the Workfirst contracts from the State of Washington. She then went to work as the Branch Manager of Career Path Services, a workforce development organization who serve low income youth and adults as well as developmentally disabled youth and adults within Okanogan County. Roni is a Colville Tribal Member and together with her husband she owns three businesses. She currently sits on the North Central Washington Workforce Development Board, North Central Washington Business Loan Fund, the North Central Washington Economic Development District Board, Wenatchee Valley Community Foundation Board, and is a past member of the Northwest Native Development Fund.
What role do economic developers play in disaster recovery?
We are uniquely well positioned in the business community and have extensive relationships with leadership and agencies that can quickly respond to the proliferation of urgent issues after a disaster and business disruption. In our recent natural disaster the Economic Alliance responded to the Okanogan County Commissioners request to conduct a survey to capture the initial impacts to small businesses. We will continue to conduct follow up surveys to gather long term impacts from this event. The data that we have collected to date has assisted the small businesses, communities directly impacted and the county to share our story with FEMA and other local, State and Federal funding sources. We also have also been responsible for tracking key economic indicators such as sales tax revenue, hotel/motel tax, B&O tax and providing the information to our Long Term Recovery Group as these reports reflect how the fires have directly impacted our communities.
What will be your most difficult job in dealing with the aftermath of the wildfires?
There are ongoing political and logistical challenges whenever a community or county receives funding from the state or a federal agency because there is never truly enough resources to meet the needs. It is important to constantly understand the multiple priorities of a recovery effort and sustain communication with all participating groups.
How do you involve tribes in your economic development strategy?
In my county the tribe is an equal and crucial partner with sophisticated leadership and management and has an abundance of assets contributing to economic development. The Colville Confederated Tribe and the Colville Tribal Federal Corporation both are represented on the Economic Alliance Board of Directors.
What changes could the department of commerce make that would assist your work in making communities sustainable?
Rural counties benefit from face-to-face communication with the agencies and departments providing services. It would be helpful if more staff were available to sit down in the county with businesses and partner in economic and community development.
What do you consider your biggest successes in 2014?
My successes are driven by my businesses and communities and despite the immense tragedy of the Carlton Complex Fire there have been large investments throughout the county, particularly in recreational destinations but including value-added timber products and global digital management. Our demonstrated resilience in responding to the fire has united county residents in many ways and will contribute to additional future success.
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