Rosemarie Francis is a local real estate investor, tech entrepreneur, author, and speaker. She grew up in rural Manitoba in a three-room shack with no indoor plumbing or running water. At 17, she left home and hasn’t looked back.
What brought you to Bellingham?
I was living in Vancouver, B.C. for several years and met my husband there. He had some property in Semiahmoo and we decided shortly after we were married to build a home there and see what it would be like. We initially thought it would be for just a couple of years but once we started planting roots, building relationships, and having children, we were enjoying our experience.
Over time, as I got more and more involved in the community, I started really enjoying all of the benefits that Bellingham and Whatcom County offered.
Do you have a favorite spot in Bellingham to hang out and relax?
I love it down near the Bellwether. There’s a beautiful park where I can walk, sit on a bench, or just enjoy looking out towards the ocean. I love being near the water, because it’s so peaceful and tranquil.
For a more fun experience, I really like Giuseppe’s. I love great Italian food and Giuseppe has been very generous with local charities and our whole community. I like to make an effort to support those people that support our community.
What takes most of your time now?
I divide my time between a few different things—my three daughters, my real estate investments and my tech company. I’m also doing a variety of tech and motivational speaking engagements. For example, I just spoke on “The Future of Location Based Technology in Health Care” in Beverly Hills at a healthcare IT conference.
I also enjoy doing some small real estate projects and spending time with the Bellingham and Seattle Angel groups.
What do people not understand about your business?
The whole triangulation thing—a lot of people haven’t grasped that. It’s like indoor GPS using your phone except we are doing a lot of work with the Bluetooth Low Energy Beacon technology. It’s a cool space to be in.
Is there something that Bellingham needs?
I would love to see a major tech company come in here and set up shop, like an Amazon, Microsoft, or Google. Being in the tech space, it’s difficult to have a strong startup community if you don’t have the resources there to help. Not just financially, but people, opportunities, and positions. As society evolves, and we have more cottage industries, and more and more people that work remotely, it’d sure be nice to have some sort of nucleus here in Bellingham.
My other personal passion would have been Tesla setting up their shop here. I love Tesla!
What do we need in order to have more tech companies here?
We need a very business friendly community, a community that offers incentives. Take the Tesla decision—they were looking at four different cities, and they chose Reno. There were a lot of concessions given to incentivize them.
Why are companies leaving Silicon Valley and coming to Seattle? A friendlier tax environment, there’s a lot of tech talent in Seattle, the cost of living is exorbitant in The Valley so Seattle is now booming because so many tech companies are expanding. I hope that Bellingham can benefit from that boom in Seattle.
Bellingham could put together a great marketing campaign that talked about quality of life—people are thinking more and more about quality of life. People don’t want to work 60 hours a week and be a slave to their jobs. They want to be able to enjoy life—go for a bike ride or a walk, and work some from the office and some from home. Bellingham offers an array of outdoor activities and a great quality of life.
Is there a book you’ve read recently you particularly liked?
I’m currently reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. My daughter, Sophia, is a great tennis player and wants to get a tennis scholarship. She’s 11 years old. I tell her: 10,000 hours! We’ve actually done the calculations together. It puts it in perspective. She’s got to be willing to make the commitment, and invest in herself.
The book helps me understand that success and successful people come in all shapes and sizes, and it’s not necessarily what we expect that we get.
What do you love about downtown Bellingham?
I love the vibrancy and diversity that you see when you walk through the streets. We have such a great selection of shops and restaurants in the neighborhood. It’s fun to meander throughout the streets on a sunny Saturday afternoon.
What are people always surprised to learn about you?
My background. Where I came from. When people see me, they typically assume I came from an educated, well-to-do family. What they don’t know is I grew up in a three-room shack with no running water and windows held together with duct tape in a small town in Manitoba. My father was an alcoholic. My mother and brother were mentally handicapped.
It was a tough environment, we suffered with extreme poverty. I am very lucky that I came out of it the way I did. I think of a number of occasions I could have gotten into trouble and had a very different outcome.
Some people say I’m successful because of it. I couldn’t disagree more. I’m successful despite it. There’s a big difference there. When the environment is so difficult like that, you have so many obstacles against you that you’re starting with chains on your feet. Other people can start running the race freely, but you can have to figure out how to get the chains off your feet so you can start running the race too. It takes a lot of personal growth, a lot of work, a lot of introspection, and even sometimes professional help.
I think as a society we need to understand the constrains of poverty and how difficult it is to get out. Our society does not incentivize people to get out, in fact it does quite the opposite. It penalizes those who have the least. An example if you live check to check and you accidently overdrawn your bank account and you get a $40 service charge. That is $40 that they don’t have. So bills get paid late and then get large late fees thrown on. When someone gets knocked down constantly it is hard sometimes to get back up.
Is there something you credit your ability to rise above the circumstances?
Number one is mentors. Mentors showed up in ways I didn’t even realize at the time. When I was a little girl, I had a neighbor with a vegetable stand. She taught me everything about gardening, she told me stories, and gave me pats on the back. When I was nine or ten, I would work the stand and sell the produce. The first day she gave me the money belt, it was such a vote of confidence for me. If I didn’t have that, I could have had a very different outcome.
I’ve had other people show up as mentors in other circumstances, like when I bought my first house at 18 years old. I was dating a guy whose mother was a real estate agent. She said, You’re paying rent. Why don’t you buy a house? In Winnipeg, Manitoba, in ‘85, houses weren’t that expensive. I found a pre-war house, a tiny little thing, but it had running water. I bought it for $26,000. It needed work. A year and a half later, I sold it for over $40,000. I thought to myself, Wow, I made more money in this house than I did working for two years. That’s what started my real estate path.
That plus, an inherently positive disposition and outlook. It does two things—it helps you see things in a different light, and it attracts more positivity into your life. I was born naturally positive. People respond completely differently to a person who is positive versus one who is negative. By being positive, people want to help you and want to lend a hand. They want to see you be successful.
And, having some level of intellectual awareness. The ability to learn, study, and be open minded. Those three things were paramount for me to be able to change my life.
Why did you write the Better Life Book?
I wanted to share my experiences with other people who might be going through something similar. I knew that my journey was unusual, and I thought if I could be successful, anyone could be successful. I felt that even if I could change one life, it’d be worth it. I was very fortunate that my book got picked up by Barnes & Noble, and is on Amazon. I now get random emails from people who’ve read the book, and something inside it spoke to them. It’s an incredible feeling to know you’re making a different.
If you had to enroll at Western and study whatever you wanted, what would you study?
It’s funny. If you would have asked me that question two years ago, it would have been different. Even five or ten years ago, it’d be different.
I’d probably go into medicine and research. I’ve done some work with the University of Washington Neurosciences Institute. Some of the technology they’re working on is absolutely mind-blowing. Duke University is treating cancer by injecting the polio vaccine into a tumor. The body’s natural immune system attacks the tumor. They’ve had some great results with it. That stuff amazes me.
Is there a local cause or charity you’re excited about?
The hospital foundation for a few reasons. We have a great hospital, and yes, they charge you for services. But reimbursement rates have come down significantly. PeaceHealth turns away no one, regardless of income or insurance status. They end up writing off a lot of care.
Somebody absorbs the cost somewhere. When that comes out of the operating budget, there’s no money left for capital. If you don’t invest in capital equipment, you won’t attract and keep the good doctors in the community.
We’re lucky, we have one of the best cardiac departments in all of Washington State. PeaceHealth is very highly regarded in a number of areas. The new Cancer Care Center attracted Dr. Jennie Crews—she is fabulous. These people are cutting edge.
That’s the reason I believe in the hospital. You can’t have a strong, growing community without a strong hospital.
I also love the work that the Boys and Girls Club does. It’s all about giving kids an environment where they feel safe. I love what they’re doing with food and nutritional programs. Kids can’t learn on an empty stomach. Heather Powell, the new CEO, has a great vision for the organization and I think we will see some really great things evolve in Whatcom County. These kids are our leaders of tomorrow. We need to give them the tools to be successful.