April 2023 Economic Report 

Inclusive Career Fair Matches Up Employers With Employees

Event to Help Those with Disabilities or Differences Who Have Difficulty Accessing Employment Through the Typical Application Process

By the Economic Alliance of Lewis County

Lewis County will be hosting its first Inclusive Career Fair 1 to 3 p.m. on Wednesday, April 26, at Centralia College’s TransAlta Commons.

All are welcome to attend, with an emphasis on individuals who are neurodiverse, have developmental disabilities or differences, high school students with an IEP or a 504 plan, or anyone who has had difficulty accessing employment through the typical application process.

The event is put on by Cultivating Inclusion, a Lewis County group promoting a welcoming culture for people of all abilities.

Lewis County Autism Coalition – A participant waves during last week’s bike ride hosted by the Lewis County Autism Coalition, along with the group outdoors for all Foundation.

“This is important because this is a community that is underserved and it can be difficult to access employment through traditional channels,” said Nicole Miller, the operations director of the program’s parent organization of Cultivating Inclusion — the Lewis County Autism Coalition. “This creates opportunities both for employees, but also the employers and businesses in the community.”

Miller said along with meeting the 15 different businesses signed up for the career fair, there will be various help services available. For example, Economic Alliance of Lewis County Executive Director Richard DeBolt

and the Alliance’s Initiative’s Program Manager Todd Chaput will be at the career fair, along with other volunteers, helping people develop their resumés if they desire.

“We are proud to take part in this event that simply makes our community a better place to live and work,” DeBolt said.

Miller said the fair is low stress for those looking for a job.

“There is no pressure, just introduce yourself and see what kind of opportunities are happening,” she said for those considering attending.

The Lunch and Learn workshop prior to the event for the businesses will cover elements of inclusive hiring, including information about supported employment and business benefits.

The Inclusive Career Fair is hosted in partnership with the Economic Alliance of Lewis County and sponsored by the Centralia-Chehalis Chamber of Commerce.

“I am so excited to have the Alliance partnering with us and to have the Chamber sponsoring the event as well,” Miller said. “And I’m thrilled to see how many businesses have come together for this.”

Cultivating Inclusion supports and stands with people with physical and or developmental/behavioral differences, people of color, LGBTQ+ and indigenous communities.

“We stand against racism, discrimination and systemic oppression — as we uphold our name by providing a safe place for voices and concerns to be heard,” according to its diversity statement. “Our commitment is to fully review nominees and only lift up those people and organizations who are truly cultivating inclusion — all people, all abilities.”

Formed in 2010, the Lewis County Autism Coalition is a partnership of human services agencies, educators, health professionals and adults. They aim to grow and sustain resources for children and adults on the autism spectrum, their parents and families, and the larger community.

Cultivating Inclusion is a broad array of community partners engaging in a county-wide education and awareness campaign to promote acceptance and empowerment of Lewis County residents who have intellectual, behavioral and/or physical differences.

The Cultivating Inclusion outreach campaign promotes the hiring of people with intellectual, behavioral and physical differences by Lewis County businesses, nonprofits and government.

The career fair will help identify a potential employee’s strengths and help match employers with the best candidate for the highest chance of sustainable employment success.

“Number one, we are creating more opportunities for our community that sometimes doesn’t have the same access as others,” Miller said. “People will get jobs, but more than anything, the career fair will be a success if we can just provide that connection for great things to happen.”

Employers Attending the Career Fair Include:

  •  Braun Northwest, Inc
  • Chehalis School District
  • City of Lacey
  • Fred Meyer
  • Hash Centralia
  • Holiday Inn Express
  • Nike Outlet
  • Providence Centralia Hospital
  • Scot Industries
  • The Lucky Eagle Casino & Hotel
  • UNFI
  • Washington Department of Children, Youth and Families
  • Washington Department of Fish
    and Wildlife

One of Dr. Bill Conerly’s quick economic graphs.

Forbes Columnist Keynotes Upcoming Economic Forecast

Dr. Conerly Bringing Business Acumen and a Sense of Humor to Economic Alliance of Lewis County’s Economic Forecast Seminar May 17

By the Economic Alliance of Lewis County

Dr. Bill Conerly
Dr. Bill Conerly, a senior economics columnist with Forbes Magazine, is the keynote speaker for next month’s Economic Forecast seminar, put on by the Economic Alliance of Lewis County and sponsored by TwinStar Credit Union.

Dr. Conerly has a Ph.D in economics, 30 years of experience in the business world, and is a chartered financial analyst.

Recent reports published in Forbes, include: “Housing Market Forecast 2023-24: The Myth Of Massive Underbuilding,” April 18; “Near-Shoring: Can Manufacturing Move From China To Mexico?” April 14; “Analyzing Inflation: When To Use Top-Down Or Bottom-Up Approaches,” April 12; and “New Employment Report Points To More Fed Interest Rate Hikes,” April 7.

Forbes Magazine has more than 150 million monthly visitors on its digital platforms. Conerly is a big deal when it comes to economic analysis.

“I decided to become an economist at age 16, but I also started reading my grandmother’s used copies of Forbes,” he said. “After degrees including a Ph.D. from Duke and three years as a professor, I found my calling in the business world. I began as a corporate economist (PG&E, Nerco, First Interstate Bank) and then entered consulting, helping business leaders connect the dots between the economy and business decisions.”

Conerly wrote the book “Businomics: From the Headlines to Your Bottom Line — How to Profit in Any Economic Cycle” to help corporate executives and small business owners understand how the economy impacts their companies.

He also co-authored a high school economics curriculum, “Thinking Economics,” and earned his CFA designation. 

“I served four governors on Oregon’s Council of Economic Advisors and am currently chairman of the board of Cascade Policy Institute,” he said. “My friends and fans love their monthly fix of economic charts, a 60-second scan of the economy.”

He specializes in economics for business decisions. Business leaders uncertain about the economy use Dr. Conerly to guide them in developing plans that reduce risk and boost profits during both recessions and booms.

His keynote speech in Centralia is titled “The Economic Outlook: Your Company’s Opportunities and Risks in the Evolving Business Cycle.”

“Business rises or falls with the economy,” he said. “Business leaders want to know what the future holds, and they also need to be ready for the unexpected.”

Conerly helps companies grow their profits across the business cycle by applying his training as an economist to real-world business challenges.

He has been interviewed on the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, CNN and television and radio stations across the country. He has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, Fortune Magazine, and USA Today. He has spoken to business audiences in five countries and 31 states.

Conerly in his spare time is trying to perfect an obsolete method of transportation.

Speaking both live and virtually, Dr. Conerly has given more than 1,300 presentation. Audience members love getting humor and substance at the same time.

“Never cut out jokes to make room for more statistics,” he said.

Steve Yeakel, with the Montana Independent Bankers, took in one of Dr. Conerly’s keynote deliveries.

“Bill Conerly is one of the most interesting and engaging speakers I have ever heard,” Yeakel said. “The fact that he is a very funny man is a bonus.”

If you want to go:

1 to 3 p.m. Wednesday, May 17 at The Juice Box, 216 S Tower Ave., Centralia

Cost is $25 per person; pre-register with Dolly Tardiff at 360-748-0114

Dr. Bill Conerly Addresses Common Concerns:

  • We don’t know if it’s the economy or us
  • We need to update our strategic plan
  • We’re not sure if we have the right products for this market
  • Things are changing so fast
  • It’s hard to plan because we don’t know where the economy is going

Carbon-reduction Company First Mode Granted $250,000

State Support Advances Hybrid Hydrogen Fuel Cell and Battery- Powered Mining Trucks at Former Coal Mine in Centralia

By the Economic Alliance of Lewis County

First Mode – The proof-of-concept hybrid hydrogen and battery powered mine haul truck at Anglo American’s Mogalakwena Platinum Group Metals mine in South Africa

Lewis County could well become a symbol of Washington state’s robust and growing clean energy economy when zero-emission trucks the height of three-story buildings are seen rolling around the First Mode Proving Grounds later this year.

First Mode, a global carbon reduction company that developed the world’s first integrated battery and hydrogen fuel cell power plants for retrofitting the behemoth diesel-powered trucks, has established a proving grounds in Centralia, thanks in part to a $250,000 grant from the state economic development strategic reserve fund, according to a news release.

The Department of Commerce awarded the funds to the Economic Alliance of Lewis County to assist First Mode with design and construction costs for office and workshop space the company plans to renovate and expand at the former coal mine site leased from TransAlta.

The First Mode Proving Grounds will help the company accelerate the transition to clean energy for heavy industry, while supporting new uses for the infrastructure at the former mine site. The site is an ideal location, allowing haul trucks to operate in a true mining environment.

Following the successful deployment of a proof-of-concept hydrogen mine haul truck at Anglo American’s platinum mine in Mogalakwena, South Africa in May 2022, First Mode leased land and office space at the TransAlta Centralia Mine and announced plans in October for the proving grounds. First Mode manufactures its proprietary hybrid fuel cell battery power plants in Seattle, where the company was founded in 2018.

“The extensive knowledge and experience of the Centralia community, coupled with Washington state’s leadership on clean energy innovation, are key to the success of First Mode’s work,” said First Mode CEO Julian Soles. “We started with retrofitting a diesel engine with a clean energy power plant in a single haul truck. We are now scaling our capabilities and deployments to move the mining industry another step closer to decarbonization.”

Gov. Jay Inslee said Lewis County and the TransAlta land makes for an attractive place for First Mode to do business.

“No other U.S. region is better positioned to tackle the game-changing challenge of developing and commercializing technologies for decarbonizing heavy industry,” said Gov. Jay Inslee. “Establishment of the First Mode Proving Grounds is an exciting next step for Washington state and the Pacific Northwest.”

Economic Alliance of Lewis County Executive Director Richard DeBolt said his group is pleased to be part of the clean-energy effort.

“This project is the beginning of understanding new technology,” DeBolt said. “It brings Lewis County into the future of the hydrogen valley and will create opportunity clusters for the future.”

At the First Mode Proving Grounds, the company will demonstrate performance and optimize the next generation of hybrid hydrogen and battery-powered haul trucks, as well as the associated infrastructure for recharging and refueling, that will be deployed at mines around the world. The standard version of these trucks today consumes enormous amounts of diesel, emitting the equivalent pollutants of 700 passenger cars. First Mode’s pilot retrofit solution is estimated to save 960 metric tons of diesel fuel per truck each year.

State and Lewis County Economic Alliance officials are optimistic this project could lead to a significant supply chain and additional economic development in the region as First Mode builds toward full scale commercialization and mass production of megawatt class FCEV powerplant modules.

Former Washington State Commerce Director Lisa Brown, who stepped down from the job in March, said First Mode is an important member of the state’s growing clean hydrogen ecosystem.

“Support for robust public-private innovation clusters in prime industry sectors is central to our long-term strategy. We are developing regional hubs that will create and sustain new business opportunities and good jobs in communities throughout Washington state,” Brown said. “First Mode is an important member of our growing clean hydrogen ecosystem.”

Brown chairs the Pacific Northwest Hydrogen Association (PNWH2) Board, a nonprofit public-private partnership that is preparing a proposal to the U.S. Department of Energy for a potential $1 billion investment in a regional clean hydrogen hub in the Pacific Northwest.

Pacific Northwest Group Submits Application for Hydrogen Hub Funding

PNWH2 Hub Concept Envisions a Dynamic Pacific Northwest Network of Clean, Renewable Hydrogen Suppliers and End-Users to Decarbonize Pollution-Driven Industry — Possibly Located in Lewis County

By the Economic Alliance of Lewis County

Fortescue Future Industries – Artist’s rendering of a hydrogen production plant proposed in Centralia, by Australia-based Fortescue Future Industries. The Centralia coal power plant, scheduled to shut down in 2025, can be seen at left rear.
The Pacific Northwest Hydrogen Association (PNWH2) submitted its full Funding Opportunity Application to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) on April 6 in a bid to become one of the Regional Clean Hydrogen Hubs under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Up to about $1 billion in federal funding is at stake, with the potential for tens of thousands of jobs associated with a successful hub proposal in the Pacific Northwest, according to a news release.

“The Pacific Northwest has a culture of innovation and a rich history with clean energy. We’re a natural fit for a hydrogen hub to build on that legacy and lead the nation in delivering a hydrogen economy to tackle our climate challenges,” said Gov. Jay Inslee. “This project will bring tens of thousands of jobs to the region across many trades. We have an outstanding public-private partnership, strengthened by the participation of Tribal communities, working in concert to transform and expand our clean energy economy.”

Gov. Inslee was in south Thurston County early in April where he made the announcement. He said if the grant is secured, Lewis County is in a prime position to create a clean-energy “hydrogen hub.”

Last May, the Economic Alliance of Lewis County announced it was facilitating a partnership between TransAlta and Fortescue Future Industries to potentially bring a hydrogen plant to the Centralia area. Twin Transit has also been eyeing the creation of hydrogen fueling stations at the Port of Chehalis to power hydrogen buses.

With TransAlta’s power plant set to fully shutter in 2025, community leaders have sought to create the hydrogen hub as a new opportunity to spur innovation and attract jobs.

If built, the Fortescue plant would cost between $400 million and $600 million. It would bring in about 140 permanent jobs and another 200 jobs during construction.

The partnership includes working with the state of Oregon and other partners.

“This transformational opportunity to accelerate development of the nation’s clean energy economy is tailor-made for the Pacific Northwest, where a proud tradition of technological innovation and collaboration in taking on bold challenges is in our nature,” said Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek in a letter of support.

The Pacific Northwest Hydrogen Association is a multi-state coalition that includes Washington, Oregon and Montana and public and private entities working together to bring clean hydrogen power solutions that leverage the region’s renewable energy sources to market in the coming years to help meet the nation’s clean energy goals.

After initially submitting a concept paper in late 2022, PNWH2 was one of 33 out of 79 proposals nationwide encouraged by DOE to proceed with the full application.

The Pacific Northwest Hydrogen Hub (PNWH2 Hub) will validate the Department of Energy’s vision of a national clean hydrogen network by serving as a vehicle for funding multiple projects that accelerate the transition to clean hydrogen energy production and use.

The PNWH2 Hub concept envisions creating a dynamic Pacific Northwest network of clean, renewable hydrogen suppliers and end-users to decarbonize some of the hardest-to-abate sectors, such as heavy-duty transportation, aviation, maritime, agriculture, and industrial operations.

The PNWH2 Hub’s goal is to exceed the U.S. Department of Energy’s benchmark of 50 to 100 metric tons per day for hydrogen production.

“It’s exciting to know that the Pacific Northwest continues leading as a clean energy trailblazer to accelerate a net-zero future,” said PNWH2 Board Chair and Washington state Department of Commerce Assistant Director Chris Green. “Hydrogen’s niche is eliminating carbon from the most carbon-intensive sectors of our economy to achieve our climate goals, and the Pacific Northwest Hydrogen Hub is ready for the challenge!”

The PNHW2 Hub will benefit communities throughout the region by focusing on creating economic opportunity across all demographics, resulting in tens of thousands of jobs, improved energy resiliency, and decreased environmental burdens in disadvantaged communities.

“This hub will help launch a clean hydrogen economy in the Pacific Northwest that can be a model for other parts of the country,” said PNWH2 Board Vice Chair and Oregon Department of Energy Director Janine Benner. “If done right, it can support an equitable clean energy transition that invests in our communities and improves health and safety for our region’s most vulnerable people.”

This is a highly competitive grant process, with teams from across the U.S. vying for the Department of Energy funding. There are strategic elements in the PNWH2 application that are best kept close to gain every advantage.

Once the hubs are selected and funded by the Department of Energy, additional information will be available regarding the major participants. DOE is expected to make initial decisions around the end of this year, with additional vetting and negotiations to follow until final funding decisions are announced later in 2024.

Director’s Corner

Economic Forecast
Seminar Brings
Impressive Keynote
Speaker May 17

Inclusive Career Fair Matches
Employees with Employers
April 26; Time to Support Our
Community With a Yes Vote
for Centralia School Levy

By Richard DeBolt
Executive Director – Economic Alliance of Lewis County

 Ben Kostic - Chair - Economic Alliance of Lewis County
Richard DeBolt
Executive Director, Economic Alliance of Lewis County

I must admit, I’m really looking forward to the May 17 Economic Forecast seminar that we are hosting on May 17.

I have long been a fan of Dr. Bill Conerly, the keynote speaker. He is an economic analyst for Forbes Magazine, and entertainingly funny. I enjoy a good laugh, but more than that I appreciate someone who knows the ins and outs of both big and small businesses, of their needs.

Dr. Conerly’s keynote speech will be “The Economic Outlook: Your Company’s Opportunities and Risks in the Evolving Business Cycle.”

“Business rises or falls with the economy,” he said, as reported in this month’s Economic Report. “Business leaders want to know what the future holds, and they also need to be ready for the unexpected.”

For businesses worried about their profits amidst boom and bust business cycles (which company doesn’t?) Dr. Conerly brings his real-world training as an economist to real-world business challenges.

He’ll give us insight into common business owner’s concerns: Is it us or the economy; do we need to update our strategic planning; are we even providing the proper services and/ or products; what do we do with the ramped-up pace of our changing times; and how do we even plan when we don’t know where the economy will be in six months?

His recent column in Forbes, “Housing Market Forecast 2023-24: The Myth Of Massive Underbuilding” is insightful.

As the story in today’s report states, he says, “Never cut out jokes to make room for more statistics.” I could get along with this guy.

Inclusive Career Fair

Another forum the Alliance is hosting, takes place this Wednesday, April 26: An Inclusive Career Fair 1 to 3 p.m. on Wednesday, April 26, at Centralia College’s TransAlta Commons, hosted by Cultivation Inclusion, part of the Lewis County Autism Coalition.

I am proud the Alliance is helping to boost those with disabilities or differences, who might be having difficulty finding a job. It strengthens both.

I am all-in, as my poker buddies would say. I will, along with Alliance’s Initiative’s Program Manager Todd Chaput, and other volunteers, be helping people with their resumés.

About 15 businesses have signed up to attend and talk with prospective employees. These are smart businesses who understand the power and benefit of inclusion among their workforce.

Centralia School District Levy Election This Tuesday

Strong schools translate into strong businesses, and it is imperative to vote yes on Tuesday’s Centralia School District Levy Election.

The district is taking a second attempt at passing a levy proposal on the April special election ballot. The past February levy failed by a slim margin. The new levy proposition is asking for help in funding dollars for educational programs and operations not funded by the state.

A quality school district can be the difference, in the business world, between attracting a quality company or it passing to go elsewhere. Be smart. Get out and vote for our students, our teachers and our community.


Richard DeBolt is the executive director of the Economic Alliance of Lewis County.

Member Spotlight

Ignite & Rise: Lighting a Way to Your Future

New Member of the Economic Alliance of Lewis County Offers Professional Grant Writing, Editing And Planning For Businesses And Nonprofits

By The Economic Alliance of Lewis county

Michael Wagar
Amy Buzzard
Michael Wagar
Janelle Rich

Ignite & Rise, a new member of the Economic Alliance of Lewis County, brings creative and innovative solutions to problems plaguing the community.

“We bring hope to businesses and nonprofits looking for ways to bring their visions to fruition,” said co-founder Amy Buzzard.

She said Ignite & Rise joined because the Alliance is a good fit for her company.

“The Economic Alliance aligns with our mission at Ignite & Rise and we want to support them,” Buzzard said.

She is partners with Janelle Rich, who has worked with local nonprofits in Washington state for the past 10 years. Buzzard also brings 17 years of experience working with local nonprofits and is past president of the Centralia School District Board of Directors.

Ignite & Rise specializes in grant writing for businesses and nonprofits, offering various levels of packages to get particular missions funded. The company also can “get your story told, correctly,” with editing services. Ignite & Rise also helps with planning and gives a free consultation to see “how we can light the way to your future.”

Lewis County Treasurer Arny Davis believes in Ignite & Rise.

“Lewis County government departments and other organizations have benefited greatly from the grant writing services provided by Ignite & Rise,” he said. “I have seen firsthand the results of their dedicated and organized approach used in providing services to clients. Their attention to detail, follow-up, and management of grants received is evident in their successful track record.”

Ignite & Rise’s clients include the Lewis County Public Facilities District, the Centralia Community Foundation, Twin Cities Sports Commission, Centralia School District, city of Winlock, Historic Fox Theatre Restoration and the Economic Alliance of Lewis County.

Amy Buzzard

Buzzard has worked with local nonprofits for 17-plus years. As past president of the Centralia School Board, she led the Centralia School District through critical changes and spearheaded leadership training among the teaching staff.

Buzzard has worked closely with the BERC group to implement necessary training to best serve the district.

She has served as chair of several nonprofit organizations, such as Dollars for Scholars, to raise funds for local scholarships. She has successfully assisted the Centralia School District and The Centralia Community Foundation in acquiring several grants, including a transformative $2.2 million grant from TransAlta.

Buzzard is devoted to supporting community revitalization, equitable access to community services, and the arts.

Outside of her professional life, she has a passion for music, enjoys spending time with her four children and boating on Puget Sound.

Janelle Rich

Rich has worked with local nonprofits in Washington state for the past 10 years. Her services have provided organizations with five-year strategic plans to meet financial goals.

Rich thrives on identifying capacity-building needs and supporting mission development. She brings a critical eye to the editing process and meticulously ensures projects meet the intended requirements. Rich is committed to supporting racial justice, gender equity and ethical business practices.

She has a Master’s Degree in business administration from Saint Martin’s University located in Lacey.

Outside of her professional life, Rich is an avid equestrian, a sewist and an ambitious DIYer. It’s not uncommon to find her surrounded by her four cats, consumed in a video game.


To contact Ignite & Rise, call 360-269-6778 or email [email protected].

Property Spotlight

2001 Rush Road, Chehalis


  • 36 Acres
  • Utilities: Lewis County PUD
  • Water: City of Chehalis
  • Sewer: City of Chehalis
  • Natural Gas: Puget Sound Energy

For information on this property and others available throughout Lewis County (or to list your industrial/commercial property for sale), contact Economic Alliance of Lewis County External Relations Manager Eric Sonnenberg at [email protected] or 208-206-5407

Eric Sonnenberg
Economic Alliance of Lewis County External Relations Manager


Thurston-Lewis-Mason Central Labor Council

Public Employees Work Together to Help Washingtonians

By The Washington Federation of State Employees

Every day, public employees in Washington State work hard to make our state a great place to live, work, and grow up.

Since the 1940s, they have worked together to advocate for our communities and public agencies. Together, they form the Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE).

“Washington counts on us. WFSE members provide critical services in every community in our state,” said WFSE President Mike Yestramski, a psychiatric social worker at Western State Hospital.

Helping Others

Today, WFSE represents over 46,000 public employees in numerous jobs.

At work, WFSE members provide medical care and behavioral health services for Washington’s most vulnerable, from veterans and children in protective care to Washingtonians with developmental and intellectual disabilities and troubled youth.

WFSE represents skilled tradespeople such as the plumbers, pipefitters, and carpenters who maintain college campuses, hospitals, and other public buildings. Other WFSE members form the specialized crews keeping our roads and bridges safe.

WFSE members play important roles in managing our state’s natural resources, ensuring a strong and sustainable economy. They work in forestry management, help farmers and landowners conserve natural resources, and maintain Washington’s many beautiful public parks.

These are only some of the important services WFSE members provide.

Public Service: A Calling

Despite facing long hours, scarce resources, and dangerous conditions, WFSE members are committed to helping others. Many describe public service as a calling.

Our union is about joining forces to make positive change. Union membership provides an avenue to advocate for vital public services, improve public agencies, and promote respect, safe working conditions, and fair pay for public workers.

“Our union gives us a way to lift each other up,” said Ashley Fueston, WFSE Vice President and WorkSource specialist. “When we stand together, we can fight for what’s right and get through tough times.”

Everyone in our state deserves a chance to work toward the American dream. Public service workers are here to help their neighbors, family, friends, and community members. Learn more about WFSE at wfse.org.