Shared prosperity, the commitment to the health and well-being of everyone, is a core principle of the visionary leaders who built North Central Washington. They took great risks in building, for example, our local public utility districts — organizations devoted to serving local communities.

Our dams could have been developed by private enterprise for the benefit of shareholders. Instead, we created economic engines that continue to foster the quality of life that makes our communities places we want to live and spread the benefit to all.

I see the same commitment to shared prosperity in a new project called the Supernova Business Launch Competition that the North Central Washington Economic Development District has developed. Supernova is designed to foster small business entrepreneurship in our communities. Inspired by the momentum of GWATA’s annual Flywheel Investment Conference, which focuses on Washington-based emerging tech companies, Supernova will use the competition to identify and launch new and expanding Main Street businesses in North Central Washington. Numerous organizations in the region have already agreed to partner on this effort , such as Wenatchee Valley College, North Star Opportunity Zones Partnership, the Oroville, Twisp and Entiat Chambers of Commerce, Microsoft and many others.

Karen Francis-McWhite, the executive director of the NCWEDD, stopped by my office recently to chat about what this business contest will mean for our communities. The organization is made up of diverse interests in Chelan, Douglas and Okanogan counties with the mission to foster an innovative & resilient economy for North Central Washington's businesses, workers, and families.

The idea behind Supernova is based on approaches that Francis-McWhite has seen work elsewhere in larger cities — like Hatch Detroit — but which should scale quite nicely to our region. Anything Detroit can do, we can do better.

The Supernova effort will launch in January with entrepreneurs submitting contest entries for businesses to be based in the Chelan, Douglas, Okanogan and Ferry counties. Those plans must include a plan to draw some of their employees from people with barriers to employment (such as veterans, people with limited English skills, individuals with disabilities, and those who have been incarcerated). To help entrepreneurs make that plan, Supernova partners with organizations specializing in entrepreneurship and serving people with barriers to employment.

When the application period closes, there will be a professional vetting of the business plans based on business fundamentals, followed by two rounds of public voting for 16 semifinalists and 4 finalists.

The effort will culminate with an event on June 11, 2020 where the winner will be announced.

“Fundamentally, Supernova Business Launch Competition will spark small business development in our communities, with an intentional focus on how businesses can help alleviate some of the stressors undermining the social determinants of health,” according to Francis-McWhite.

We are losing population in our small towns because of a lack of small business development.

With business consolidations happening across the country, small towns are suffering as people move to larger cities with more economic opportunities.

I find it refreshing and inspiring to contemplate a business competition that seeks to foster stronger communities and at the same time open up opportunities for people who face these kinds of employment barriers.

This is the nature of shared prosperity, that we find creative ways to foster greater social and economic growth.

The Supernova contest is built on a model that has worked wonders in Detroit, where since 2011, more than 40 businesses have been launched in Detroit,and not just the eight grand prize winners. Francis-McWhite and the NCWEDD board believe that Supernova will be even more successful in North Central Washington.

I commend the NCWEDD board and staff for taking on this great project and it’s exciting to know that organizations throughout the region are helping make this happen. With the launch date still a few months away, there is still time for additional stakeholders and sponsors to support this effort by contacting the NCWEDD at

Strengthening communities and expanding prosperity will require creative local solutions.