Another Spokane economy historical document

Throughout the 70’s and 80’s, there was a growing hope that high technology industries could add markedly to the Spokane metro area. Some challenged the feasibility of this goal without a research university saying that Spokane could not hope to compete in the newly emerging world of high technology or biotechnology without this vital asset.

Although Spokane has four 4-year universities and a thriving community college system, Spokane has been bereft of a technology transfer, research university. All of the universities have post baccalaureate programs, but prior to 1988, there was little if any collaboration between programs, faculties, or students of any of these institutions.

To answer the challenge, the Washington State Legislature, with local guidance, created the Spokane Riverpoint Higher Education Park and created the Joint Center for Higher Education JCHE. The JCHE mandate was to catalyze a high tech sector, begin the effort to provide high tech worker education programs, and to be the administrative agent for the newly created Spokane Intercollegiate Research and Technology Institute SIRTI. The JCHE was to spur university collaboration in teaching of computer science, biotechnology, and other technology classes; collaboration in research projects especially with industry partners; and foster high-tech worker education and training programs. SIRTI was to be operated as a research and technology-facilitating institute that would provide grants, independent research laboratory space, project management help, infrastructure, and the capability of scientists from all local colleges and universities to collaborate. See Spokane Higher Education Park at Riverpoint, Master Plan and Design Guidelines.

via Terabyte Triangle | America’s Leading Digital Downtown, Spokane, WA.

Interesting. There are far fewer post baccalaureate programs in science and technology (engineering) than there were ten years ago. We seem to have gone in the wrong direction.

It appears the Joint Center for Higher Education did not work out- and was shut down by the legislature. SIRTI was re-constituted in 1998 with a 17 member board. The Board has 9 public members and 7 members representing WSU, EWU, GU, Whitworth, CCS, UW and CWU. No mention is made of who is the 17th Board member? The current Board roster is here.

SIRTI is to focus on “research that benefits the intermediate and long-term economic vitality of eastern Washington” – but they now support start ups statewide as there is a clause that allows that.  In the past, they also supported businesses in North Idaho, which is a bit of stretch for a Washington state government agency.

Update to this post:

I crossed out the two sentences above to clarify. In this link (which is above but not obvious), the Board is described as having 17 members. I missed one reference in the article – the SIRTI Board is to have 9 members of the public, 7 academic representatives and 1 representative from the WTC.

When the error was brought to my attention, I did more looking into the SIRTI Board structure based on the listing on their web site.

From the current Board roster, the Board is structured as follows:

  • 7 from higher education (GU, UW, CCS, WSU, Whitworth, CWU, EWU)
  • 1 retired WSU executive
  • 3 from finance (CEO of Sterling Savings, WIN Partners, Northwestern Mutual/Financial Rep – retired CEO of Isothermal Research Systems, ex COO of Greater Spokane, Inc?)
  • 2 from the government (WTC, US Dept of Energy/PNNL)
  • 1 Biotech (Jangaard Associates)
  • 3 from industry (Telect, PyroTek, ReliOn)

WIN Partners is an angel fund managed by the former CFO of Brewster Packing Company.

According to State law (, nine members should come from the general public and “Of the general public membership, at least six shall be individuals who are associated with or employed by technology-based or manufacturing-based industries and have broad business experience and an understanding of high technology;”

In addition, 7 should come from higher education and 1 from the Washington Technology Center.

At the present time, the SIRTI Board membership appears to be:

  • 7 higher education representatives, plus 1 retired university vice president
  • 4 from tech or manufacturing industry (instead of 6)
  • 3 from finance (which could be the 3 additional public members – with 1 likely having a technology business background)
  • 2 from government

I guess they are counting the retired WSU executive and the US. DOE representative as “technology-based or manufacturing-based industries” – which is a slight stretch – or the NW Mutual rep due to his background.

SIRTI was established between 1988 to 1994 as the Spokane Intercollegiate Research and Technology Institute with a charter of spinning off university research into industry and business (a.k.a. “technology transfer”). Hence, that would be why 7 Board members were designated to come from the higher education sector.

Over the years, SIRTI has diverged from that original direction – by dropping the long name to become just SIRTI and today describes its mission as “a Washington State economic development agency focused on accelerating the development and growth of innovative technology companies in the Inland Northwest, especially in Eastern Washington“. Compare that to the description in the third paragraph from the top of this post when the focus was university research and university connections.

I wonder if the law that spells out the Board representation should be changed in light of the new focus on technology economic development rather than university research spin off? The recently mailed SIRTI Perspective 2010 report gives only a tiny, off hand mention of a “research institution” connection on page 11.

The above is not intended to be critical of SIRTI but to wonder if a different organizational structure might meet its contemporary goals more effectively. With the change away from a university technology transfer focus to an economic development agency, should higher education continue to have 7 (or 8) of the 17 Board seats? Should the Board include more members specific to the science and technology industries?

3 Responses to Another Spokane economy historical document

  1. There are 17 Sirti board members listed on the page to which you link.

  2. InlandNWBlog says:

    Sorry – my link was not clear. The link refers to a previous link in the blog post.

    and this text:
    “The institute will be governed by a 17-member board that will be appointed by the governor.

    It will include nine members from the general public, with a strong emphasis on business leaders in the technology area. “That’s a very strong addition,” says Anderson.

    The Washington Technology Center, a center similar to SIRTI on the west side of the state, also will have a representative on the board.

    The other seven members will come from academia, including representatives from the schools that were involved with the JCHE: WSU, Eastern Washington University, Gonzaga University, Whitworth College, and the Community Colleges of Spokane. In addition, the University of Washington and Central Washington University will have representatives on the board. It will be the first time those schools have been formally linked to SIRTI. ”

    Upon re-reading that, I now see my confusion.

    The article says there are to be 9 members of the general public with an emphasis on business leaders in the technology area, one from the WTC (which I missed) and 7 from higher education.

    Looking at the current Board structure, it appears that they now have
    8 from higher education
    3 from finance (Sterling Savings, WIN Partners, Northwestern Mutual)
    2 from the government (WTC, plus the US Dept of Energy/PNNL)
    1 unknown (Jangaard Associates)
    3 from industry (Telect, PyroTek, ReliOn)

    According to State law (, nine members should come from the general public and “Of the general public membership, at least six shall be individuals who are associated with or employed by technology-based or manufacturing-based industries and have broad business experience and an understanding of high technology;”

  3. Pingback: Startup America – Dead On Arrival « Steve Blank « Spokane Economic And Demographic Data

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