Spokane County Historical Population Growth

Like many areas, Spokane’s economy has historically undergone booms and busts – and appears to be in some sort of a plateau or bust right now: see  the 15 year stagnation in Spokane International passenger traffic.

Spokane underwent a high tech boom and bust in the 1990s and the early 2000s, peaking in 1998[1] before the dot com collapse and before the 2001 recession. Since then, the high tech sector has largely vanished and no longer appears on local economy strategic plans.

Booms and busts have occurred before, as noted in this news article. To address these downfalls, the area apparently produced its first economic strategy plan in 1991 (the document itself has mysteriously disappeared and there is no longer any record of what it contained).

In 1995 and 1996, more plans were produced and “highlighted the shortage of good-paying jobs” in Spokane County, a problem that plagues Spokane to this day in 2010.

By 2000, yet-another plan was produced and “focused on finding federal money from the Economic Development Administration.”

By 2010 (and several more plans later, each of which keeps changing dramatically indicating confusion), the new focus is on health care, bioscience, and like the 2000 plan’s goal of seeking federal grants, the latest plan seeks government money to create a medical school in Spokane.

Spokane seems to be evolving into  government reliant economy providing high value health care services to a growing retired population, plus retail and consumer services for that population, and leveraging its regional health care status into government funding for a medical school.

This situation is acknowledged by local business marketing director Shaun O’L. Higgins in his annual state of the Spokane economy talk. In his 2009 presentation, he concluded by saying

“We will continue to be an economic refuge for those seeking to retire and preserve wealth (particularly, we will see growing in-migration from California).”[2]

The wealth preservation comes from the region’s low wages and low costs of living.  Spokane’s economy has become dependent on wealth created elsewhere from

  • retirees bringing their cashed out home equity
  • retirees bringing their investment portfolios and savings
  • retirees bringing their government pensions

Spokane, for example, has an above average number of senior citizens as compared to its peer cities. (Source: chart from CityTownInfo.com). More green bars means “higher than”.

The area’s de facto situation seems to be to continue its comparative advantage of low costs – literally a comparative advantage of poverty – to import wealth from economically successful regions, elsewhere.

Spokane’s future lies in providing health care services to retirees bringing wealth from somewhere else.

A corollary is that if your skills or business are not involved in health care or providing services, this may not be the community for you.


[1] 1999 saw only 100 jobs added to the local economy according to this presentation in 2000 (see pages 9-10). Exports took a downturn in this year as well and similarly, local air cargo began to plummet after peaking in about 1999-2000.

[2]The quoted excerpt from the Higgins presentation is used under a claim of  fair use for non-commercial commentary.


2 Responses to Spokane County Historical Population Growth

  1. Pingback: BusinessWeek on Boise « Spokane Economic And Demographic Data

  2. Pingback: Growth of gang population in Spokane « Spokane Economic And Demographic Data

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