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Lifelong Parkland/Spanaway resident Kirsten Kreis leads Pierce County Navigator Program at PLU

Lifelong Parkland/Spanaway resident Kirsten Kreis leads Pierce County Navigator Program at PLU

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Image: Business Outreach Director Kristen Kreis poses for a portrait along Garfield Street next-door to PLU. (PLU Photo / Sy Bean)

December 6, 2023
By Ava Edmonds

PLU and the Parkland community are familiar to Kirsten Kreis.

Her roots run deep in Parkland, from learning to swim in the PLU pool, to completing her high school assignments in the Mortvedt Library, to walking across the stage in Olson Auditorium at her Spanaway Lake High School graduation. Kreis has thrived in the community for years, and now she serves as the business outreach director in PLU’s School of Business.

“Working at PLU feels so natural and fitting, a sort of coming home feeling,” says Kreis. “There’s definitely a strong pull to serve the community that gave me so much support at an early formative age.”

In January of 2022, Dr. Mark Mulder, dean of the PLU School of Business, applied for and received a $250,000 grant from the Pierce County Economic Development Department to fund the PLU School of Business work supporting underserved rural communities via the Pierce County Navigator Program.

Pierce County Navigator Program

The Pierce County Navigator Program is an outreach and referral program with one-on-one assistance and mentoring for entrepreneurs in the South Sound area. It operates as a “hub” and “spoke” model with seven different organizations as the spokes. These organizations include the Asia Pacific Cultural Center, Business Impact Northwest, Korean Women’s AssociationMi CentroPLU School of Business, The Black Collective, and Washington APEX Accelerator.

As director, Kreis supports approximately 120 entrepreneurial clients. She travels all over Pierce County, from the Key Peninsula through Parkland and Tacoma, and out to Eatonville at the base of Mount Rainier. Kreis offers her knowledge and expertise through one-on-one consultations. Sometimes, she refers them to Navigator partners and the resources they need. Other times, she may help draft a complete business plan from scratch. No matter the business need, Kreis is there to help.

In addition to referrals and strategic planning consultations, the navigator program also offers events and training courses for entrepreneurs in the community. For example, in September, PLU hosted a “Meeting of the Minds.” The meeting brought together public and private entities, service providers, and entrepreneurs to collectively assess the current landscape of entrepreneurial support and identify existing resources and unmet needs.

Pierce County Business Skills Program

Entrepreneurs seeking more than workshops and events can complete the Pierce County Business Skills Courses co-presented by the School of Business and PLU’s Continuing Education. The program offers busy small business owners and entrepreneurs a way to work on their business on their own time, at their own pace. Small businesses can access free and flexible on-demand and online training in bookkeeping, graphic and web design, marketing strategies, and more to enhance their skills and improve their business.

“Entrepreneurship and the support of community entrepreneurs via the Pierce County Navigator Program is an important part of our mission,” says PLU School of Business Dean Mark Mulder, who works closely with Kreis on the navigator program. “Supporting underserved communities offers critical opportunities for individual and community transformation.”

The Future of the Program

One of Mulder’s goals for the program is to connect local businesses to the brain power of PLU students in the School of Business. Inviting entrepreneurs as guest speakers into PLU classes or involving students in local business marketing plans creates a win-win situation, benefiting both entrepreneurs and students through practical collaboration.

“Allowing students to be a part of this experiential learning journey, either in support of entrepreneurs or as they explore their own potential entrepreneurial journey, offers wonderful learning opportunities for PLU students as they build their own empathetic and community-based leadership experience,” Mulder explains.

Kreis and former PLU business student, Ava Edmonds '23, stroll down Garfield Street discussing relationships and experiences between local business owners and PLU business students in marketing courses.

Kreis’ strong ties to Parkland have significantly influenced her journey to becoming the Business Outreach Director and entrepreneur she is today. Now, she is extending her support to other entrepreneurs looking to establish themselves in the South Sound region.

“It’s fulfilling work to be an ecosystem supporter for small businesses and in the lives of students engaging with them, helping to make them and the community stronger and more resilient,” Kreis says. “Entrepreneurship has the ability to help create a stronger economy for us all to live, shop, work, and play throughout Pierce County.”