The Northwest Tech Scene, Public Policy, and Collaboration: WTIA CEO Susan Sigl on Her First 100 Days & What’s In Store

7/29/10

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it, really, because it’s all about, in the end, the economic viability for technology in the state of Washington. That includes education, quality of life, tax climate, all of the conditions that a state really needs to have in place to continue to promote entrepreneurship and make it a place where businesses can thrive. That’s a long-term proposition, and that makes it really exciting.

X: What does the WTIA need to do first in order to accomplish this?

SS: One of the first steps is retention. How do you retain the members that you already have? And my understanding is that is an ongoing challenge always for any member-based organization, because companies can join, and then if there isn’t proper follow-up, or messaging, or something helping them get value for what they’ve paid for, then it ends up showing up in retention. We’re doing a really good job in that respect. The one thing about the WTIA is that it’s been around long enough and the people that it employs are so competent in their functional area, that we have good systems in place to know what you need to do to make sure that these kinds of fundamental things that keep going quarter after quarter after quarter are covered. So we do a lot of outreach—we have systematic methods in which we reach out to them and check in with them. We don’t wait until the invoice is due annually. I mean, it’s not real sexy or anything, but it’s part of just being on top of your businesses. Retention is part of how you grow the membership, because you need those people to stay as members while you’re doing new acquisitions. And the new acquisitions, that’s a lot of the fun part of the membership drive, which is meeting new companies, getting referrals from companies that you already have in the fold, having the right reputations so that people kind of already have some familiarity with the brand and what it can do for you. So we try to stay on top of all of those things, given that fact that we still are a nonprofit with a limited budget.

X: How many staffers do you currently have?

SS: There are a total of 11 people.

X: Oh, wow! It’s much smaller than I thought.

SS: No kidding! One of our—they’re not competitors because they’re in a different state—but one of the associations that we know well on the East Coast, they’re smaller than we are, and they, for instance, have 35 people on their staff.

The thing that is so wonderful is the competence of the people in here. We have two people in membership, one person in sponsorship, one person on events—we almost have a one-man functionality for each department, whether that be accounting and finance, or government affairs. And those people are so competent, and so driven, and so just positive. We get a ton done with an 11-person staff.

X: Is your staff something you’d like to see expand to meet growing needs in the future?

SS: Yeah. Like any good business person, if you’ve got goals that you want to achieve and they’re big in nature, you definitely want to think about how you resource to get there. But right now I can jump fast forward and tell you where we’re at in terms of the strategic part of the business. We have made the decision for the next 12 months that the goal is to do what we currently do a lot better— and just make sure that we’re doing the best possible job that we can with what we’ve got. So this particular year will not necessarily be a year of expansion outward. It’s going to be more of an in-depth look at whether the events that we do are the right events for us. Do they add the value and the message that we want to communicate? The partners that we currently have—and when I refer to partners, I mean, we’ve got organizations in Bellingham and Whatcom county, because there’s tech companies there. In eastern Washington, there’s kind of a little bubble going on of companies over there because of the Yahoo facility and other [things]. There have been some policy initiatives that have cut favorable deals, if you will, by the government for encouraging companies to go over there for data storage. So there’s a lot going on over there, and we have relationships—we have partnerships—over there, and we’re going to figure out how we can bring more offerings to those groups. After all, we do represent the state even though 75 percent of the tech sector resides right here in Puget Sound. So it’s about just looking deeply at what we have and making sure that we’re doing the best job that we can with what we have. And maybe the next 12 months after that it will be more a look at some expansion. One of the reasons for that is because we did a pretty big expansion deal in the fourth quarter of 2009. There is an organization, it’s a national organization, called TechAmerica, and it basically represents the engineering, electronics, advanced manufacturing sector. And they had … Next Page »

Thea Chard is a correspondent for Xconomy Seattle. You can e-mail her at theachard@gmail.com or follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/theachard. Follow @

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