Swain leaves West Richland city job

Loretto J. Hulse, Tri-City HeraldMarch 6, 2014 

When Ruth Swain was hired by West Richland seven years ago to start up and manage a marketing and economic development program for the city, she was told the position was only funded for six months.

That was like waving a red cape in front of a bull.

During her time with the city, Swain has had three titles. The first was economic specialist, then it was economic director and now it is community and economic development director.

Friday is her last day with the city. Swain is leaving to return to her own consulting business, Swain Communications.

"She's a very pleasant individual to work with. The staff has the utmost respect for Ruth and her positive attitude. She's not about 'no,' but what can be done to make the answer 'yes,' " said West Richland Mayor Brent Gerry.

Former West Richland Mayor Donna Noski called Swain "a great team player" and said her decision to resign will be a loss to the city.

"Yet I always appreciate people wanting to do different things, to make changes. She did a lot for the economic development of our city. She took on a lot in a short time and brought a lot of resources to the city in grants," Noski said.

Swain has been helping nonprofits and public agencies ferret out funds since 1993. As a consultant, she worked with the Tri-Cities Cancer Center, Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences and Washington State University Tri-Cities.

"My first job was working with the Tri-Cities Development Council," she said.

Within a few months of being hired by the city, Swain secured a state block grant to develop the city's first Strategic Economic Development Plan.

"The plan created a framework for staff to know where the city is going. After all, how do you know you got there, if you didn't know where you were going in the first place?" Swain asked.

Gerry credits Swain for spearheading the redevelopment and cleanup of the Van Giesen Street corridor and Yakima River gateway into the city. Swain is the one who found Olympia-based consultant Jason Robertson to plan out the work and sketch various ideas of how the street could be developed. The city council authorized hiring him several years ago.

"The two of them got that project off the ground. It's a big job to do with limited resources. What's absolutely essential to success is she was able to find millions of dollars in grants to fund it," Gerry said.

He said Swain also guided the rewriting of the city's first Shoreline Master Program since it was last done in the 1970s.

"It's a state mandated update. Ruth grabbed the bull by the horns and led us through the proper agencies with a big assist from Councilman Richard Bloom," Gerry said.

With her guidance, West Richland has reached out far more in recent years to peer cities and to regional agencies like TRIDEC and the Tri-Cities Visitor and Convention Center and formed partnerships, like the one with the Port of Kennewick to acquire and develop former raceway land, he said.

Swain also has encouraged city staff and the council to update the municipal code and enforce it to get property owners to clean up weeds, old vehicles and appliances and generally create better, cleaner neighborhoods.

Swain's future plans are to leave her hectic schedule behind and return to her Richland home-based business as a marketing, special projects and fundraising consultant in the Tri-Cities."I love to work on image, branding, marketing, on facilitating what needs to be done to see a project come to fruition. I like to work with what a person's vision is and then go find the money. Though it's getting harder and harder to find resources, especially since I work with many nonprofit or public agencies who have limited resources," she said.

Gerry is grateful for Swain's work to assemble a knowledgeable staff with depth and history in planning, zoning codes and ordinances.

"She and her staff have played a big part in bringing this city's owners' manual up to speed," he said.

The city is in negotiations to hire someone to replace her, said Gerry.

-- Loretto J. Hulse: 582-1513; lhulse@tricityherald.com

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