Dynamo in Difference-Making: Mariah McKay

by Amy McGarry

The dictionary definition of dynamite is a person having a spectacular effect. Dynamic means characterized by constant change, activity, or progress. A second definition is a person with a positive attitude full of energy and new ideas.

As the Huckleberry Press continues to highlight inspiring leaders making a difference in the local community, we found a dynamo of difference-making in Mariah McKay. Mariah is a visionary and community leader whose innovation and commitment to equity and sustainability led her to found Spokane Independent Metro Business Alliance (SIMBA).

With SIMBA as a vehicle, Mariah is a social entrepreneur working to create solutions to social, cultural, and environmental issues. In general, SIMBA is a grassroots business and consumer association devoted to regenerative development. Specifically, SIMBA “organizes and educates values-driven business owners and consumer leaders to create a more resilient and equitable economy.” Even more specifically, SIMBA builds relationships and connects across industries, creating an environment where more diverse local businesses can thrive.

I had the honor of talking with founder and director Mariah McKay to learn about what’s new and exciting with SIMBA and her community leadership.

From Pandemic to Potential: Resources for Small Businesses
Since the COVID-19 pandemic delivered a hit to so many of our local small businesses, SIMBA contracted with the Department of Commerce to become a member of the Small Business Resiliency Network. This partnership means SIMBA is a “trusted community messenger” contracted to provide “culturally and linguistically appropriate outreach, technical assistance, and support to small business owners.” It means that SIMBA can provide many of its member support benefits to businesses that aren’t members.

SIMBA Networking Group

SIMBA entrepreneurs gather to discuss opportunities for their involvement in various small business support strategies after a recent members and friends networking event in the East Central neighborhood.

Through this “free business consulting for underrepresented and emerging entrepreneurs,” SIMBA provides an extensive list of help. Need help with grant applications? SIMBA has you covered. Need web design support or other technical assistance? SIMBA can provide one-on-one help, or connect you to the right professional. SIMBA also helps with leasing issues, creative marketing strategies, labor shortages, procuring material goods from local sources, gaining affordable consumer feedback, and more! There’s personal help available to find answers to questions and get business needs met.

SIMBA provides personal assistance to about 50 to 80 businesses each month, and has served well over 600 businesses to date. Any under-represented business owners, such as Black, and Indigenous or other people of color, women, Veterans, people living with disabilities or members of the LGBTQ+community in need of assistance are especially encouraged to request help by filling out this form on the SIMBA website. https://spokaneindependent.org/business-support/.

Live Local Palouse: A Tri-County Rural Marketplace (Whitman, Garfield, Asotin)
Following on the success of the Live Local INW campaign, SIMBA launched Live Local Palouse, a rural business listening and outreach initiative sponsored by the Washington State Department of Commerce and carried out in partnership with the Center for Inclusive Entrepreneurship. Live Local is a buy-local, collective marketing brand that features a Virtual Main Street Marketplace and local business directory on www.livelocalinw.com. This online resource connects businesses “directly with customers looking for the best products and services from right here at home in the Inland Northwest.” Live Local allows consumers to find businesses by category, services, product type and neighborhood, and is the only regional resource for browsing businesses across demographic ownership types, such as women-owned, LGBTQ+owned, or multi-ethnic owned, as well as sustainable businesses and certified B Corporations.

Live Local Palouse is now available to engage Palouse entrepreneurs on the Live Local website and help Spokane shoppers buy from these rural businesses.

To determine the needs of the rural Palouse region, SIMBA held three Town Halls in three counties– Whitman, Garfield, and Asotin. Over fifty surveys were collected to learn not only the needs, but what are the partnership opportunities to strengthen our regional economic connectivity.

According to Mariah, “In Spokane it’s easier to take small businesses for granted because we have more. In rural communities however, the connection between healthy small businesses and collective vitality is much more clear to folks, so our offerings have been very well received in these areas.”

While the Spokane County Marketplace has businesses in different districts like the Garland District and the South Perry District that customers can search, with Live Local Palouse customers can search businesses in cities and towns such as Colfax or Pomeroy or Clarkston.

SIMBA contracted with Jonathan Teeters to lead the organizing of the Live Local Palouse outreach drive. Soon a report of findings from this work will be published on SIMBA’s website (www.spokaneindependent.org) and will inform how the Department of Commerce will craft rural small business support strategies going forward.

Business Equity Coalition of the Inland Northwest (BECIN.org)
In 2020, SIMBA helped to co-found the Business Equity Coalition of the Inland Northwest with the Carl Maxey Center. Since then five more groups have joined BECIN in their “commitment to building an equitable small business ecosystem based on (their) values of racial equity, collaboration, and leadership.” In addition to SIMBA and the Carl Maxey Center, members include AHANA, INBA, Community Development Initiative, Hispanic Business/Professional Association, and the Native Business Development Center.

“Harness the Uncertainty of the Times for Resilience”
SIMBA’s logo is a butterfly, which is also a symbol of change. Change, or dynamism, is a constant theme for Mariah McKay and her community leadership through SIMBA, making her title Director of Dynamism all the more appropriate. The pandemic showed us all how quickly change can dramatically impact our economy. Mariah sees “educating about what it takes (to succeed) in this new economy” and to “respond to an uncertain future” as a primary role of SIMBA.

Luckily, our community has change-makers like Mariah who love the Inland Northwest and feel a life’s calling towards making a difference. “Connecting the right people at the right time makes magic happen. I can leverage a deep well of relationships to help people make dreams come true. It’s really beautiful when you can show people how to participate in powerful change-making at the local level.”

You’re Invited!: Live Local Coalition Members SIMBA and the North Monroe Business District are hosting a Small Business celebration on Saturday Nov. 26
Every dollar invested at a locally owned and independent business returns 2-3 times more dollars back into the community than a dollar spent at a non-local business. These dollars recirculate through the local economy building more local jobs and community wealth. This year the City of Spokane and Gesa Credit Union have sponsored the Live Local INW campaign to celebrate the resilience of our independently-owned businesses on Nov. 26th for Small Business Saturday in the North Monroe Business District. Stop by participating businesses that day between 10am-2pm to enjoy festivities, special offers and the chance to win raffle prizes. To learn more, visit SIMBA’s website at www.spokaneindependent.org.