Eric LaFontaine Love the Grant County Culture
Posted on Sep 01, 2016
"They are really good," Eric LaFontaine says of the people of Grant County. "Most people have a genuine heart." LaFontaine is the Publisher of the Columbia Basin Herald and a member of the Board of Directors for the Grant County Economic Development Council. He has lived in Moses Lake since 1999 when he got his first job here.
LaFontaine was born in Seattle. In 1980, when he was six, his mother moved to Richland to work for the Department of Energy. She was tasked with leading a new
LaFontaine entered UW with dreams of becoming a high-school math teacher. Then he found out what a math teacher made and switched to political science, thinking about becoming a lawyer. But when he took pre-law courses, he discovered that wasn't for him. "I wasn't passionate about it," he explains.arm of the energy conservation program. LaFontaine smiles as he says her job was to be anti-nuclear in a pro-nuclear town. LaFontaine grew up in a blended family with a half-Latin, half-Columbian stepfather. His biological father was one-half Native American making LaFontaine one-quarter native. This meant he was a minority student when he attended the University of Washington.
He did manage to obtain an internship at the Washington State Legislature where he worked under a senator. He again smiles as he says he got 15 credits at a 4.0 grade and got paid for it.
His first job out of college, after earning his Political Science degree, was in Moses Lake, working at Grant County Mental Health Care as Director of Public Relations and Development. The job involved a lot of contract development and grant writing. He says he wrote the grant that first funded the New Hope domestic violence shelter. After three years, he was bored
with that job. He had been a volunteer fireman with the Moses Lake Fire Department and wanted to become a full-time firefighter. But that didn't work out and so he joined the Navy Reserves as a Petty Officer Third-Class: Journalist. At the same time he worked on obtaining his MBA in Finance from Regis University in Denver. He spent two years working in finance for Allstate Financial and Washington Mutual Bank as a registered financial advisor. It paid his bills for graduate school, but included a lot of evening work and he preferred being home with his family, so he quit in 2007.
The publisher of the Othello Outlook asked LaFontaine if he'd be interested in the newspaper business. He likes writing, photography and had journalism experience, so he agreed to take over the Outlook. At the time, the paper was losing a quarter-million dollars a year. La
Fontaine was given the keys to the building and told to "fix it." He started with a staff of himself and one other person. At the same time, the Othello Independent, a free weekly came out as competition. Still, in 2-3 years, LaFontaine had made the Outlook profitable and the Independent had gone bankrupt. And the Outlook was winning awards for journalism and advertising.
In November of 2014, LaFontaine was hired by the Hagadone Group to be publisher of the Columbia Basin Herald. He says the interview process lasted thirteen hours with various members of the company.
LaFontaine loves the "speed" of everything involved in being the publisher of the Herald. "My brain moves very quickly," he says. He loves the daily challenge and the daily deadline. "I love the people here," he adds, saying he has forty people working with him.
The challenges of the job are that news on newsprint is "struggling." Readers are going digital "faster than most people realize." Readers of newspapers are old and dying, he explains. But he has a change that is going to be rolled out in the next few months to answer that challenge.
LaFontaine smiles and says he got on the EDC Board of Directors "by default." The previous publisher of the Herald was on the board and LaFontaine stepped in to take his place. He adds that he was "tasked" by Hagadone with getting involved in "everything" and the EDC was on that list. To get up to speed with the EDC, he had then-Executive Director Jonathan Smith give him a "crash course" in economic development in Grant County. Juanita Richards also asked him to be on the Executive Committee and he agreed. LaFontaine is currently the Treasurer of the EDC. "You don't know how good you can be until you try it," he says, adding that the next generation of leaders need to step up and help.
"The EDC is the main driving force and the glue that's going to keep economic development going in the county," LaFontaine says. When the port districts formed, LaFontaine adds, they didn't realize that working together works better. The EDC, as the glue, brings these organizations, including the cities and the counties, together to promote economic development, he explains.
The EDC, LaFontaine adds, is "our future" at a macro development level. While Grant County has many assets including low-cost power, the EDC is the "tip of the spear" to make economic development happen, LaFontaine says. When a company announces it's building in Grant County, what people don't realize is that the EDC has been working behind the scenes for 12-18 months helping bring that company here, LaFontaine explains. "There are more great things going on in Grant County per square mile than anywhere else in the state," he says.
LaFontaine is also on the Board of Trustees of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association. He's involved in the Boys and Girls Club as a board member, and has been a member of Rotary since 2008.
"When I got here in '99 I felt very comfortable. I never grew up around racism and I never saw it here," he says. While he'd like to see more shopping, he says Moses Lake and Grant County are "amazing." He adds that "I can get out and be active just about anywhere." He likes that he can run home at lunch, feed the dog, and get exercise. LaFontaine is a runner and has done five marathons. "I like to eat which is why I like to run," he says.
LaFontaine loves the "national-level" monuments in Grant County such as Grand Coulee Dam and the gorge. He likes the people, the slow pace, and the different cultures. He says his family is an "outdoor" family who bikes, hikes, and paddle boards. LaFontaine is also an "old school" baseball card collector. "One of the things I enjoy most outside of running."