Potlatch, Idaho is one of 23 rural communities in Idaho and Washington participating in a Community Needs Assessment to learn how these towns may be unintentionally limiting economic growth and community vitality.
Avista has launched a rural vitality initiative to come alongside these small communities to offer interactive workshops designed to help local leaders gain a fresh perspective, new insights and create the desired future for their community.
As part of the rural vitality initiative, Avista brought in Doug Griffiths, community-building expert and author of 13 Ways to Kill Your Community, an approach that encourages communities to take the long view and be receptive to change instead of giving up what’s wanted most for what’s wanted right now.
“Doug Griffiths speaks in a language that makes sense,” explained Gina Taruscio, executive director of Partnership for Economic Prosperity, the economic development organization for Latah County, Idaho. “He has a gentle and humorous way of easing communities into economic development – almost backing into economic development by pointing out common mistakes and pitfalls most communities do! His ideas are plausible, real and approachable.”
When Avista Regional Business Manager Paul Kimmell approached Taruscio about sponsoring three Latah County communities and a day-long workshop with Griffiths in Latah County, she jumped at the opportunity.
“There are people in each community that are absolute champions,” Taruscio smiled, noting that Genesee, Kendrick and Potlach were selected to participate from Latah County. “It is going to be that little nudge to give them hope, the sunshine they need.”
The champion in Potlatch is Dave Brown. He has served on the city council since he was first elected in 1998 and has been Mayor for 18 years. He has led the town’s efforts to improve infrastructure by redoing the water system, installing a new sewage system and building sidewalks. He has also championed tourism with a 22-slot RV park and adjacent pickle ball court, splash pad and Frisbee golf course. During the holidays, he installs lights and leads the community parade.
“This is a truly friendly town. People are waving at you all the time,” Brown smiled. “We’re trying to make Potlatch a nice bedroom community and more people want to live here, but we don’t have any building lots. Housing is important. If property was available, we’d have people building on it.”
Mayor Brown is one of the leaders from the 23 rural communities who recently attended one of two workshops led by Griffiths. The next step in the process is happening now. All residents of each community are being asked to complete a detailed survey designed to capture their thoughts and opinions on the 13 Ways – Forget the Water, Don’t Attract Business, Don’t Engage Youth, Deceive Yourself, Shop Elsewhere, Don’t Paint, Don’t Cooperate, Live in the Past, Shut Out Seniors, Reject Everything New, Ignore Outsiders, Become Complacent, Don’t Take Responsibility – as well as additional topics including health care. The survey is available online through December 31. Each community is promoting the survey via email and hard copies in town halls, libraries and chambers of commerce.
The 13 Ways Community Assessment is an effective and efficient way to get a clearly articulated picture of each community so it can meaningfully and effectively plot a course for its future. Once completed, the results will be compiled and shared with the communities. Avista will continue to work closely with these communities in 2020 to develop a 13 Ways Action Plan and a Map to Success. Each community will also be eligible to apply for a rural vitality grant from Avista to support their efforts.
“I’ve always wanted to have a community meeting to get people’s opinions – to get their ideas,” Brown said, reflecting on the 13 Ways assessment process. “It’s a very big community involvement thing. We all live in a very, very neat place on the Palouse in Latah County. We can come up with great ideas!”
The 23 Communities include Idaho – Genesee, Grangeville, Kendrick, Lapwai, Potlatch, Plummer, Rathdrum, St. Maries; Washington – Clarkston, Colville, Davenport, Endicott, Fairfield, LaCrosse, Latah, Lind, Odessa, Othello, Ritzville, Rockford, Sprague, Tekoa, Washtucna.