History of Spokane Economic Plans – Part 8 – Recommendations

Mayor Newsom announces the first microloan of ...

Image by mayorgavinnewsom via Flickr

(Photo is not of Spokane but San Francisco upon the announcement of the issuance of “micro loans” to help start small business economic activity. Photo is an official photo of the SF Mayor’s Office.)


There are only a few recommendations I could think of that do not appear in a prior study. And I am not going to repeat the long list of ideas in those studies-I especially liked the 2003 Innovation Economy report.

  • All of the historical plans repeat themselves year after year. That suggests their goals were unrealistic as they were not met – and just get repeated again in the next report. The Focus 21 study even acknowledged that all the reports are basically the same,  filed away on a shelf, and rarely looked at.
  • Future reports, and you know there will be many more, should be short (the 2003 Innovation Economy report is around 200 pages!), direct, and nail the main points.
  • Agencies and the consultants they hire measure their success by the number of reports they produce. Study authors should be given the responsibility to follow through with the recommendations and be held accountable for that follow through. No one is  accountable today.
  • None of the studies ever asked, “Could there be problems with clustering?” I believe the clustering focus has benefits to those areas that already have successful, strong clusters (like Seattle) as it tends to solidify what they already have (financial success). Clustering tends to be bad for the economically weaker areas as it tends to pour concrete over their existing economy, solidifying it in place forever.
  • Spokane’s cluster strategy is incoherent, changing clusters from year to year and  even month to month.  Promoters seek the benefits of tight knit, interactive clusters, but then define a geographic cluster covering tens of thousands of square miles.  Then they argue our diversified, non-cluster economy is a benefit – so why pursue clusters? Local promoters push clusters that are at odds with the State – which has cut support for clusters that local promoters are pushing. The strategy is nonsensical.  This is not a topic where being “adaptable” and quickly changing directions is useful as it discourages the investment needed to make a cluster come into fruition. The current cluster strategy – which is nonsense – may even be harming the local economy.
  • Spokane needs the presence of a research university. As the second largest city in the State, one would think Spokane would qualify. The lack of a research university has long been noted as a problem.

    “Spokane is not at the forefront of higher education. Lack of a major research institution has consistently been called a weakness as community officials assemble a 21st-century information-based economic curriculum.”- Bert Caldwell, Spokesman-Review newspaper.

    WSU-Spokane does plan to grow its presence in Spokane, but focused on health sciences and not as a comprehensive research institution. A graduate research institution provides several benefits, including attracting ambitious people to the area who wish to push their own knowledge limits, providing personal growth opportunities for those already here, and creating new leaders for tomorrow.

    The best technology transfer program comes from the students themselves, not from government agencies set up to create university technology transfer (SIRTI).  We need undergraduates and graduate students who pursue their own entrepreneurial instincts to turn great ideas into even better ideas. Unfortunately, this is form of technology transfer is weak here.

  • Do online social networks have the potential to change the concept of a local geographic cluster? I wish but I fear the consequences: If social networking enabled us to create a network cluster between the Tri-Cities and Spokane, then why not between Bangalore and Spokane? Since Bangalore is cheaper, why not just Bangalore? (That’s in India if you didn’t know.)
  • I have introduced the observation that Spokane has become the “haves” – government/education/health care workers, and the “have nots” which is most everyone else. I sense that those employed in high paying secure jobs do not understand what this fuss is about as they are insulated from the real world. I have even heard some government employees mention, recently, that they had not even noticed all the empty buildings and for sale/for lease signs throughout the area.

The 2003 Innovation Economy report has a long list of recommendations, many of which make much sense – such as locally run entrepreneur boot camps (we did that here long ago), more calls for university research/private industry collaboration, a focus on “innovation” and fostering the elements needed to create an “innovation economy” and so on.

People are the raw resource for an innovation economy. But we’ve lost a huge number of them in recent years and our universities, no matter how good they may be, are not now producing sufficient quantities of graduates and post graduates skilled in the necessary 21st century innovation economy skills. We’ve lost the critical mass needed for a tech ecosystem but we still pretend we can be a world class center of excellence in tech. Hello? As documented on this web site, EWU produced one MS in computer science in 2008, and three MS degrees in biology. We have a long way to go to reach a critical mass in the innovation economy that can compete on a national or international field.

Spokane’s economy is in retreat from its past goals – and seems to be settling in to a long term economy based on government/education, health care, retirees, and the services needed to support them.

Even Apple Computer seems to have recognized this, opening their first ever store in Spokane, in the Fall of 2010. Their strategy is to locate first where there are large college student populations, and second, where there is a large older population that is retired or near retirement. I didn’t know that was a target demographic.


This concludes my roughly 2 years worth of hobby research and transcribing those notes to the web. There will be more posts in the future, but doubtfully as lengthy or as in depth as these comments have been.

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