Lisa Karstetter Building the region’s connections

By Casey McCarthy
Original article at Columbia Basin Herald

Aug 10, 2020

Lisa Karstetter said she believes what she’s best at is helping to build connections. Since moving to Quincy 30 years ago, Karstetter has helped involve herself in the community through her connections with local businesses and organizations.

Through her position with the Microsoft TechSpark, Karstetter has also worked to help connect her own local community, and others in North and Central Washington, by expanding access and education.

Born in Othello, Karstetter moved to Quincy after college when she married her husband and started a family on their orchard. She said she became heavily involved with the Quincy Valley Chamber of Commerce when she first arrived, through owning Creative Travel, a travel agency.

“I got really involved with the chamber, one of the best things you can do when you move into a community,” Karstetter said. “That’s the fastest way to get involved.”

Through her time with the chamber, where she eventually served as executive director for more than six years, Karstetter became involved as a board member with both Grant County Economic Development Council and Grant County Tourism Commission.

In 2007, Karstetter took a management position with Yahoo! when both it and Microsoft broke ground for their data centers in Quincy. For about 10 years, she worked at helping these data centers “lean into” the communities they were located in.

“At the end of the day, I think anyone will tell you I’m passionate about just figuring out how best you can connect with your community and the communities around us,” Karstetter said. “I think we all have a part in that, especially when businesses are there.”

When Microsoft launched its TechSpark program in 2017, Karstetter was one of seven area managers chosen. The program’s aim is at promoting digital skills and transformation, while identifying unique challenges facing different regions, ultimately hoping to boost growth and development in these communities.

Karstetter said she was told to make the program her own when she began, using the first few months to listen and learn.

“I’d come from a community management background of trying to figure out, as a corporation, how we could best help,” Karstetter said. “But this is really listening to more of those deeper roots of where are the problems, where are the road blocks, and can Microsoft be catalysts to remove them, or bring in other partners to remove them.”

Through Microsoft’s Technology Education & Literacy in Schools (TEALS) program, Karstetter said, she’s been able to greatly expand access to computer science education. In partnership with code.org, she said, they’ve also been able to host numerous training sessions for teachers, students and community members.

Karstetter said she’s also been able to work closely with organizations like the FFA and 4-H Tech Changemakers, helping develop skills for people entering, or active in, the agriculture industry.

She has also worked in expanding broadband access for more rural communities after sharing with Microsoft her own experiences with lack of access. Karstetter recalled a trip up to Ferry County where she was forced to cancel her appointments for the day, knowing she’d lose connection for an extensive time.

“Bringing that reality back to Microsoft that I’m on the ground, and I’m living this and seeing it,” Karstetter said. “It’s kind of brought to light that there’s some challenges that we don’t think about. I think they just think that everywhere in Washington state has good broadband coverage, and there’s not.”

The reality of the lack of access truly came to light when COVID-19 first became prominent in March. After hearing accounts of students coming home and not having anywhere to go for internet access, Karstetter said, she quickly moved it up her priority list.

“How can we make accessibility, we need to figure that out,” Karstetter said. “You can’t just have them go and sit on a bench in front of some place to get Wi-Fi.”

Karstetter and other local business owners and thought leaders, including Rep. Alex Ybarra, came together to form the Better Together COVID-19 Crisis Team. The group worked daily communicating with business owners and community members to find out where the needs were.

“It was beautiful to watch everybody come together in Quincy to really do that,” Karstetter said.

Karstetter said she was able to leverage some funds from the Columbia Basin Foundation to secure hot spots for the Quincy School District. Twenty computers were obtained for Grant County Health District.

Grants from Microsoft and the Microsoft Data Center Community Development team helped secure funds that went directly into helping organization around Grant County, including helping Quincy Valley Medical Center with PPE costs.

Karstetter said she feels blessed to be the face of Microsoft for the North Central Basin, a term she coined for her area of coverage.

“I feel privileged to be doing the work for them on the ground, and I can give up my time, both professionally and personally,” Karstetter said. “But I’m really lucky to have the means to also financially give through Microsoft.”

Her history of connecting people goes all the way back to her time as class president at Othello High School, Karstetter said.

“Connecting and bringing people along with you, I kind of think maybe that’s what I do best,” she said.