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Shaping Spokane’s Image

Visit Spokane’s Leadership Transition —

If you were to mold the image of Spokane to the outside world, what would it look like? If you’re the one responsible for enticing tourists to the metro, different messages will attract different tourists and different tourists contribute differently to our local economy. What, exactly, is Spokane and what kind of money do we think we can attract to it? A fun question to explore.

And so it passes that Visit Spokane, those that profess to define what Spokane is to outsiders, is transitioning leadership. Their CEO, Cheryl Kilday, is moving along after about eight able years at the helm. Among her most recent accomplishments is a successful re-branding of Spokane from “Near Nature, Near Perfect” to “Creative by Nature” (image above).

At the risk of distracting from the thesis question (how do we best define Spokane’s image?), Cheryl was somewhat of an outlier within Spokane’s holy trinity of civic non-profits that thinks it speaks for everyone – Greater Spokane, Inc., the Downtown Spokane Partnership, and Visit Spokane. The two former place high value on fundraising politicians with little experience in their respective fields, and the latter, somewhat surprisingly, places high value on an industry expert. Within the realm of Spokane’s parochial and closet misogynistic political environment, Cheryl Kilday stood strong against some challenging headwinds. Her expertise and professionalism will be missed and it’s a testament to both that she was able to depart Spokane on her own terms.

Now, the metro’s political elite are faced with the interesting question of who should fill Cheryl’s shoes. Put another way, and more to the point, who can define Spokane in a manner that does us justice? Where and how do we attract such talent? There is no more important question to ask during the interview process to stake Cheryl’s successor than “how do you define Spokane?” And, “what’s the best way to go about spreading that message?” There’s a whole bunch of folks, myself included, that could deep-dive for hours around such questions. The answers are infinitely complicated yet have the potential, within the hands of an expert, to be brilliantly simple.

My hope is Visit Spokane continues its successful run of maintaining an independent, arms’ length relationship with Spokane’s traditionalists. Within the realm of 21st-centruy city building, it is those who navigate un-mapped waters that succeed. When there is no model to follow, when there is no other city to point to, when you’re not sure what to do next because no one else has ever done it, that’s when you know you’re into something special. And that is exactly what will set Spokane apart from everyone else.

My hope is Visit Spokane hires someone that makes everyone else point at us, someone who creates a new model, someone unafraid to explore uncharted waters. Spokane doesn’t need a map to follow, we need those who create maps to start placing Spokane on them.