Deserved or not, Whatcom County has a reputation among some as being unfriendly when it comes to business. A new group hopes to address that perception.
Tony Larson, a business owner and former county councilman, recently formed Whatcom Business Alliance with the goal of improving the local business climate.
"A lot of business owners have disengaged from the process," said Larson, referring to involvement in government policies and regulations that might impact the business community. "I think an honest broker is needed to represent the business community."
The alliance is in a start-up phase, but has already attracted CEOs and presidents from large local companies, including Saturna Capital, Logos Bible Software and Bellingham Cold Storage. Currently the alliance has five people serving on an executive committee with another 16 on the board of directors. As of last week, the group had nearly 100 members.
One difference with the alliance compared to other local economic development agencies is that it is privately funded. Larson said membership is open to anyone.
"We're looking for members who want to support business success and community prosperity," he said.
How the alliance will work is still being fleshed out, but Larson noted several services he believes will benefit the business community:
- The group will put together a series of speaker events and training sessions, using many of the local CEOs as a resource.
- A relaunched business publication will keep members informed about various issues affecting local businesses. Larson shut down Northwest Business Monthly this past spring and relaunched Business Pulse Magazine, a quarterly publication. Business Pulse will be the official publication of the alliance but is a separate entity; subscriptions are open to anyone.
- A series of networking events so business leaders can interact. A kickoff networking event is scheduled for Oct. 18 after completion of a membership drive.
- The alliance will advocate on behalf of local businesses.
The goals and mission of the alliance have some similarities to the local chambers of commerce. Larson said those member groups tend to focus on different things within a community.
"We support all the local chambers and will try to avoid any overlap with what they do," he said.
Troy Muljat, a managing broker at Muljat Commercial and chairman of the alliance, views it as an exciting opportunity.
"There is a need for business owners to come together to talk about the business issues," he said. "I think overall the business climate is positive, but clearly there are some gaps that should be addressed."
Muljat said the alliance is not a political activist group.
"I think there's been a fair amount of apathy from the business community, so the goal is to try and have a unified voice," he said.
Jeff Kochman, president of the Barkley Company and a member of the alliance's executive committee, agreed with Muljat about keeping it a business group.
"Tony (Larson) has done a good job trying to reach out to a wide range of business sizes and industries," Kochman said. "Business people have a lot of common interests, and they need to be heard."
For details on the alliance, call Larson at 360-746-0418. A website, Whatcombusinessalliance.com, is under construction. The magazine can be found at businesspulse.com.
Reach DAVE GALLAGHER at email@example.com or call 715-2269.