Yelm’s Collaboration with Regional Partners Brings Training and Resources to Help Local Businesses Prosper

Yelm Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Line Critchfield and STEDI Rural Program Manager George Sharp prepare for individual business coaching sessions. Photo courtesy: City of Yelm

Yelm business owners take note. A slew of resources are available through a partnership between Yelm City Hall and the South Thurston Economic Development Initiative (STEDI) to support existing businesses, budding entrepreneurs and those with just the germ of an idea for a new service or product.

“Through these partnerships with STEDI, the Chamber of Commerce and many other regional partners, we are breaking down barriers to entry and allowing our local economy to flourish,” Yelm Mayor JW Foster says. “Whether they are expanding their business or opening a new business, we want anyone interested in investing in Yelm and the surrounding area to have the tools that allow them to grow within the community,”

Yelm is an ideal base of operations for the program, which also serves Rainier, Tenino, Bucoda, Grand Mound and Rochester. “We’ve always viewed Yelm as a stronghold for small business so we’ve tried to move our resources out to that community and been fairly aggressive about it in the last year,” says Thurston Economic Development Council (EDC) Executive Director Michael Cade. “That’s been successful.”

Since 2012, STEDI’s role has been to support rural communities in growing their capacity, both at the Chamber of Commerce level and through relationships with local city administrations. “We look at what they want to accomplish and what we can do to help them be successful,” says STEDI Rural Program Manager George Sharp.

The City of Yelm provides space for Sharp and his team to hold regular office hours from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. every Wednesday as well as workshops on topics like How to Start a Business, Integrated Marketing and how to execute governmental contracting. “We can’t do anything unless we have a strong partnership with the city,” says Cade. “We make sure our services are well-known to their staff so when someone is looking to start a business or do something new with their business, they know that we’re here as a resource.”

Such collaborations are key, according to Yelm City Administrator Michael Grayum. “We keep bringing people together and moving forward with our shared ideas,” he explains. “Having conversations with our regional partners like the EDC allows for the opportunity to support new and existing businesses, while also creating a more educated workforce.”

Thus far, the response has been positive. Attendance at workshops has been consistent, although Sharp would like to see it grow.  “I’m testing what gets traction and attracts interest and what doesn’t,” he says of the workshops. Sharp is also looking to spread the word of their weekly coaching sessions and working to expand service to current and future Chamber members as well.

Aside from working with business owners, STEDI recently conducted a retail study, the results of which will be released soon. The study looked for any “retail leakage”, i.e. residents traveling to other towns or shopping online for goods and services that could be available locally. “Based on that leakage, we plan to identify opportunities for local businesses to expand,” says Sharp.

On the flip side, the EDC is looking for ways to connect Yelm companies to larger markets, not only in Thurston County but also within South Pierce County. As one of the fastest-growing cities in the state, Yelm’s retail market has continued to expand alongside its population, and so have the health care sector, commercial businesses and professional services.

Looking forward, Sharp has goals and plans for further collaboration in 2020. Noting that Yelm Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Line Critchfield opened every STEDI workshop by welcoming participants and acknowledging the partnership with the EDC, he says, “We are currently working with the Chamber to develop workshops that will be beneficial and engaging for both local and regional businesses, while expanding upon other resources to keep small businesses prosperous in our community.”

He’s also planning a study in collaboration with the City of Yelm and Yelm Chamber of Commerce  bthat will identify every property owner within Yelm city limits along with their level of interest in renting, leasing or selling their property. “This comprehensive study will make zoning data readily available and provide a quick answer as to what the property could be used for.” Sharp says. “Then, we will seek developers who might be interested in bringing projects to Yelm and help them through the planning process, establish an estimated cost and help determine if the market is there for them.”

Another opportunity for entrepreneurs exists through the EDC’s Thurston Investment Network (ThINK). The membership-based network connects those with a desire to add a local component to their investment portfolio with local business owners who need capital. “We’re planning to have a mini-ThINK in Yelm to highlight the opportunities available for people who believe in the area,” says Sharp.

All of these developments are positive for Yelm citizens, according to City Administrator Grayum. “I’m excited for the next phase,” he says, “to reach out and explore what the possibilities are and to get people excited to invest in Yelm.”

Learn more by visiting the South Thurston Economic Development Initiative website or contacting George Sharp at gsharp@thurstonedc.com or 360-464-6043.

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