Published: November 28, 2023 | Updated: November 27, 2023

A big picture of economic development

The Coeur d’Alene Area Economic Development Corp is proud of its work building up the I-90 Aerospace Conference and Expo. The expo has become an annual means to bring together manufacturers and agencies across Central and Eastern Washington, North Idaho and Montana. Aerospace, space, medical, energy and industrial equipment are the primary industries that make up the Northwest I-90 Manufacturing Alliance.

The Coeur d’Alene Area Economic Development Corp is proud of its work building up the I-90 Aerospace Conference and Expo. The expo has become an annual means to bring together manufacturers and agencies across Central and Eastern Washington, North Idaho and Montana. Aerospace, space, medical, energy and industrial equipment are the primary industries that make up the Northwest I-90 Manufacturing Alliance.

Setting the vision for your community’s future isn’t something that happens overnight. It often takes a lot of steady hands and regional collaborations to bring that vision to fruition. 

That’s where economic development corporations come in handy. Their job is to reach across the table to fuel new business partnerships, generate stronger connections between existing agencies, fight for grants and generate economic growth.

Cd’A: Regional partnerships ensure area is 'rowing in the same direction'

For Gynii Gilliam,  establishing the I-90 Aerospace Corridor Conference and Expo as a regional force has boosted many small local businesses by granting them access to companies they would never otherwise have gotten facetime with. Throughout the years that followed the start of the expo in 2015, organization and collaboration has only deepened the regional connections on either side of the state line.

As the Director of the Coeur d’Alene Area Economic Development Corp, Gilliam believes that competition is the detriment to the regional teamwork that could be lifting agencies up instead.

“The idea is, let’s bring all the leaders together. We’re all in the same boat rowing in the same direction,” Gilliam said.

Northwest I-90 Manufacturing Alliance is a collaboration of manufacturers and industry stakeholders working to promote and grow the supply chain across Central & Eastern Washington, North Idaho, Montana. The group represents a large swath of regional aerospace, space, medical, energy, and industrial equipment industry partners. 

“We do a lot of cross-border partnerships like Tech Hub and we’ve partnered jointly with the I-90 Aerospace Corridor Conference and Expo. We’re the larger spokespeople so we should not only do what’s good for us, but what’s good for everybody around us. On the cross-border partnership, that has really helped with forming that I-90 aerospace conference,” Gilliam said.

By banding together, Gilliam said, you can have the impact of 100 small businesses as opposed to 25, the way the separate conferences used to work. Bringing on Boeing to the expo was a huge feather in the economic development corporation's cap. To get smaller businesses facetime with such a major player in the industry was a massive win for the I-90 corridor’s economic impact.

Gilliam cites three collaboration methods the Coeur d'Alene area agency employs: forging connections across cities, counties and businesses; making sure the composition of the economic development board is representative of the area; and partnering with other economic development agencies.

“The Economic Development Agency wants to cover more ground with the money that they have and it really helps that we already have established partnerships across the border. It kind of makes things happen faster because we don’t have to try and build the partnership, it’s already there,” Gilliam said.

Silver Valley: Grants and partnerships power progress

The recent opening of the Russell Portal at Bunker Hill Mine is something that Paige Olsen, director of the Silver Valley Economic Development Corporation, is looking forward to watching bolster Shoshone County’s job market. With one eye on the present and another turned toward the future, she’s hopeful the mine will take the local economy from maintaining stasis to expanding with an injection of new jobs when mine production begins in earnest in 2024.

“We continue to see (small) businesses come and go, but there is a pretty consistent flow and steadfastness of businesses keeping their doors open. There has been a small influx in higher paying jobs with the Bunker Hill Mine opening back up, and we plan to see quite a drastic change in the growth of our area once they are in production next year,” Olsen said.

For the Silver Valley agency, local and regional connections and resources have been the most important cornerstones, Olsen said, when it comes to building up a vision for the Valley’s economic future.

“We are seeing more cross-entity collaboration as well as municipalities stepping up to the plate to create positive and needed change in our area,” Olsen said.

When it comes to Silver Valley grant initiatives, Olsen credits the Panhandle Area Council in supporting Silver Valley development as a regional resource and partner, as well as Idaho Commerce and Shoshone County, Innovia Foundation, Idaho Humanities Council and the Idaho Community Foundation. 

For six weeks over the summer, Kellogg became the site for a traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian Institution that celebrated local efforts and initiatives. Spark! Places of Innovation is a Museum on Main Street exhibition that features  stories of innovation across social, cultural, artistic or technical boundaries in rural communities. 

Bonner County: Area needs more than growth for growth’s sake

Keeping up with the changing times, the Bonner County Economic Development Corporation made a major change to rebrand as the Pend Oreille Economic Partnership in 2022. The name change was just one more indication of the changing atmosphere.

Executive director Brent Baker stepped back into leadership for the organization early this year and said the need is to focus on a more holistic economic picture when it comes to building up a sustainable economy rather than what will make the most immediate financial impact.

“We look at growth a little differently than we used to. Right now, the affordable workforce housing crisis and the inadequacy of the talent pipeline for businesses, means growth for growth’s sake actually hurts us more than it helps us,” Baker said.

By focusing on how to best help current businesses prosper, the economic partnership hopes to dig more intentional channels to improve infrastructure and grow in a sustainable way.

The current big picture for Bonner County shows that growth has largely stabilized, but Baker said there’s more to undertake before expansion is achievable in a lasting vein.

“Until housing and talent pipeline improvements occur, growth will be incremental, with an emphasis on retention and expansion, as opposed to attraction,” Baker said.

Working with the Idaho Department of Commerce, Panhandle Area Council, and the Regional Economic Development Team plus the executive directors of the five Northern panhandle county economic development organizations has been a help to Baker and the Pend Oreille Economic Partnership team as they’ve narrowed their focus. The Economic Development Agency, Rural Economic Development Team, Business Retention and Expansion Group, and the Department of Labor have also helped in cultivating a collective vision for the future. 

Overcoming isolation from municipality to municipality has been a major goal for the agency as they work on creating community development that shares a cultural identity.

“Almost no one realizes we have nine municipal entities in Bonner County, on a generally East to West axis, with Sandpoint, the county seat, in the middle. Going west we have Dover, Priest River and Oldtown, and going east we have Ponderay, Kootenai, Hope, East Hope and Clark Fork,” Baker said.

Identifying mutual interests has been a major part of the conversations the Pend Oreille Economic Partnership has struck up within the area and with their neighbors. It’s not been an easy feat, but stronger bonds within the rural county can only better direct their economic strategies in the future.


    Gynii Gilliam said that the I-90 Manufacturing Alliance Conference and Expo has been a way to get related industries across three states on the same page and build up regional resources to create stronger industries with many shared connections.

 Silver Valley Economic Development Director Paige Olsen meets with Bunker Hill Mine's General Manager Tom Francis, and safety manager Alan Longley during the groundbreaking ceremony outside of the mine’s Russell Portal.

    Silver Valley Economic Development Director Paige Olsen, Tom Francis GM, Morgan Hill Environmental Manager As well as Jenny Hemley from Idaho Commerce and George Baily of RENO (Hydrogen Energy) visit the Russell mining portal before demolition at the Bunker Hill Mine site in Wardner.
    From left to right: Brent Baker, Executive Director, Pend Oreille Economic Partnership, Brian Hagues, VP-Finance, Diedrich Roasters, Tom Kealey, Director, Idaho Department of Commerce, Jenny Hemly, Business Retention and Expansion, Idaho Department of Commerce, Karl Schmidt, CEO, Diedrich Roasters.