June employment update for Spokane County


A broader look at historical employment. This older chart was created from US BLS data and within the resolution of the chart, is still accurate. As you can  see, employment is about where it was in the boom years of 1998-2000.


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Is incompetence common place?

A pharmacy tech looted 262,000 hydrocodone pills from the Providence Sacred Hart Medical Center Pharmacy over four years, until some one noticed. But the pharmacy tech is a minor part of the story.

DEA joins Sacred Heart pill theft investigation | Spokane/E. WA – KXLY.com.

According to the KXLY news report (and assuming it is true):

  • No effective inventory control to detect theft, even of tightly regulated narcotics.
  • Anyone could login to the pharmacy’s computer system using the account name ‘student’ and password ‘student’, hence, no security controls and no logging of individual access.
  • Who thought granting all students a single account, whose login credentials never changed, made sense?
  • Who thought it appropriate for students to order narcotics and be untrackable?
  • Who thought it appropriate for students to be allowed to manipulate the pharmacy’s inventory records?

If Sacred Heart messed up this badly, what should we be thinking of the rest of the facility, staff and services? The words “best-in-class” and “award winning” do not come to mind.

Patients have to pay higher fees to cover SHMC’s long term drug thefts (and how many other thefts have been occurring?) The community suffers from high crime rates as addicts steal to buy stolen pills pilfered from SHMC. Sacred Heart’s actions looted the community.

The newspaper has this amazing quote:

“We have already completed a thorough review of our internal process and have made significant control improvements that we feel will prevent this from happening again,” the hospital spokesman said. “And, going forward we will continue to evaluate to ensure we have best-in-class processes, policies and practices.

SHMC has no idea what “best-in-class” means or this would not have happened. This story is about management incompetence, not about a lowly pharm tech.

This post is not one of our usual data-backed posts. I put it here in the interest of trying to figure out why the local economy stubbornly lags the state and the nation. We know that Sokane’s wages fall further and further behind year after year, for decades. What causes this?

At this point, it seems to be due to a combination of indifference, incompetence, lying and a local cartel. These issues turn up much too often – why?

Update: Some think we might hire pals and family rather than the best.

Spokane’s Potemkin Village Marketing Program

Years ago some one told me the Spokane Visitors Bureau put together a special map to avoid showing key visitors the run down appearance of much of Spokane. I thought he was joking.

He wasn’t joking – the map is for real and it’s called “Spokane City Drive“. The map weaves a path around the problems, potholes and empty buildings:

“We’re really concentrating, though, on how we pick the routes that we take them,” Kilday said. “Because there are days that traffic or construction or potholes all play a part into what we’re showing a meeting planner.”

Spokane develops strategy to sell itself to big conventions | KREM.com Spokane.

In the future they will show off the heated pedestrian/bike bridge as the centerpiece of Spokane’s economic prosperity and city of the future!

Because the link to the VisitSpokane’s City Drive map sure as hell goes no where (its’a dead link – ain’t our marketing grand?)

Innovate Washington loses state funding

Formerly known as SIRTI, the state funded economic development agency whose mission changed every few years – Innovate Washington loses state funding – Spokesman.com – July 11, 2013.

Bet if the heated pedestrian/bike bridge was built, those often empty SIRTI buildings would have been teeming with industry!



And it probably should be shut down.

SIRTI and its successor, Innovate Washington, did not deliver close to the hype of their own PR. SIRTI started out as the Joint Center for Higher Education, then became SIRTI with a constantly evolving mission, and then became Innovate Washington.

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U-District Heated Pedestrian Bicycle Bridge is officially intended as an art project

The bridge should be seen by the public not merely as a corridor to be used to get between multiple points, but as a unique and exhilarating experience in itself.
This symbolic role is significant enough to suggest a scale and form that is amplified beyond the basic functional and structural requirements.

via University District Pedestrian Bicycle Bridge Study: Community Objectives / Advisory Committee.

The $8 million pedestrian/bike bridge turned into a $16 million outdoor heated iconic, exhilarating, grand, (not) globally unique art symbol costing more than most auto bridges to serve the (not) fast growing student community that will create $350 million in economic activity“But this will not happen without a bridge”!

Absolute lunacy to believe this depends on a heated pedestrian/bike bridge. Spokane has lost its marbles, for sure. Where’s the valet bike parking service? Is their free coffee for bridge users too? Free massages on Friday? Nothing but the best! Let’s make this bridge really stand out!

The promoters have shot their credibility in the head as they descend into silly and farcical claims.

I support a ped/bike bridge. I do not support loony misrepresentation.

Spokane’s biomedical economy will collapse without the heated ped/bike bridge

The Spokesman-Review has an unsigned “Opinion” with the astonishing claim that Spokane’s bio-medical future will collapse without the heated ped/bike bridge being built:

That will not happen without a bridge.

U-district bridge vital to promote area growth – Spokesman.com – July 16, 2013.

OMG. Spokane has descended into lunacy. Or may be it was already there, more likely.

Therefore, we should be building more heated pedestrian/bicycle bridges throughout the County to spur dramatic economic growth!

Previous Data About the Bridge and District

The Pedestrian/Bike “Cable-stayed arch bridge” is not that unique

The proposed pedestrian/bicycle bridge near the WSU-Spokane campus is said to have a unique “cable-stayed arch” design – perhaps the only one in North America or even the northern hemisphere. But that claim is based on a subtle difference between other arch bridges, a subtlety that few people will notice.

Instead of a central tower for the suspension bridge, the Spokane bridge will have an arch over the center and the suspension lines drop down from that. Otherwise, it is a suspension bridge.


From a recent news article:

  • This one, however, would be unique in the United States, perhaps even in this hemisphere, as a cable-stayed bridge supported by an arch.” (As we will see, this claim is a stretch based on subtle differences.)
  • “It really is intended to catch people’s eye,” said Katherine Miller, the city’s principal engineer
  • The arch was not picked for any symbolic value other than its grandness, said Brandon Rapez-Betty, University District project manager for the Downtown Spokane Partnership.
  • “It was meant to be a loud, iconic statement to help send a message that the University District is a major opportunity for economic development,” he said.
  • The preliminary renderings show a graceful, arched refinement of the cable bridge across the Columbia River at Tri-Cities; the first of its kind built in the United States.” – uh, comparing this globally unique design to an existing bridge that already exists?

Here is what the bridge looks like in an illustration from the designers (source). It contains an arch and cables down to the suspension deck of the bridge, hence, a cable-stayed arch bridge.

south landingsIt is a suspension bridge, a common bridge design. But rather than use a  tower for the support structure, an arch that runs perpendicular to the deck is used – that is the “unique” part.


The Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge in Dallas is nearly identical to the above bridge.

The_Margaret_Hunt_Hill_BridgeThe claim of a unique bridge design falls on its face as another of Spokane’s many lies. The area has a serious problem with lying.

A bridge proponent lists other “similar” bridges in a comment to this blog, which are  suspension bridges for pedestrian/bicycles.

Portland is known as “bridge town” and is a good starting place to look at different types of bridges.

Here is a photo of the Sauvie Island Bridge located near Portland (this apparently is not in North America but in a strange land called “Portlandia”). The photo comes from Wikipedia. Note carefully – it has an arch structure and cable-stays suspending the bridge deck. Here, the arch runs in line with the bridge deck while the Spokane bridge arch would be perpendicular to the deck.


This is not the only bridge of this type in Portland, either. The Fremont Bridge is a similar design (photo from Wikipedia).


And then there is this bizarre bridge on the Portland’s light rail system. Note the arch traversing the roadway with cable stays suspending the light rail line bridge. Image from Wikipedia.

In this case, the arch is  perpendicular to the light rail line, virtually the same as Spokane’s proposed “unique in the world” bridge. The difference is that the suspension lines go roughly straight down from the arch, rather than to points across the bridge.

There are some technical differences in these designs that only a civil engineer is likely to care about – the general public, not so much.


The uniqueness of the proposed Spokane bridge is merely that is has an arch over the center of the bridge, rather than a tower, and the arch is perpendicular to the deck, rather than parallel.

The Golden Gate Bridge, pictured here, uses a tower to support the cables. The Spokane bridge span will look like this but have a tight arch in place of the tower. You can sort of visually see the Spokane bridge by imagining a curved, narrow arch in place of this tower. Photo is from Wikipedia.


That’s a pretty subtle level of “uniqueness” that the general public probably will not notice.

The claim that Spokane’s bridge will be unique depends on the public recognizing the subtle differences. No one will care about the subtle technical differences. Fundamentally, it is a suspension bridge held up by an arch in the middle instead of a tower.

The Monroe Street Bridge was at the time of construction, largest bridge of its type in the U.S. and 3rd longest in the world for its type. Did this design create an icon driving economic development or was it merely that having a bridge (any bridge) that provided for economic development?

University District Student Population Trend is Flat to Downward over Past Five Years

There’s a meme that the “University District” is a fast growing area with tons of students moving in.

Here’s a quote from a comment to a Spokesman-Review article about the bridge:

The student population of the University District is growing fast, but the universities have decided not to build student housing (i.e. dorms) for the growing population, which makes sense because the students generally aren’t freshmen/sophomores and don’t want to live in dorms.

The specific answer to how many students are moving in to the geographic area is not available. But we can look at the enrollment trends at the local universities there and we find that combined enrollment is flat to slightly downward over the past five years.

Gonzaga University



Washington State University – Spokane

(Data Source, chart drawn by this blog). The blue line represents WSU-Spokane. (Update: Fall 2013 numbers are in and show a meaningful increase from 2012 to 2013.)


Chart Showing Combined Enrollments at GU + WSU-Spokane

The orange line at top is the combined student enrollment total.  Combined enrollment reached a peak about five years ago and has been flat to slightly downwards since then. This suggests the “fast growing University District student population” claim is not true during the past five years.

(There could be EWU and Whitworth commuter students there too but its mostly GU/WSU now as best I can tell. Enrollment data is not available. Are their trends different than WSU and GU?)


This chart is not intended to predict future growth only to note that current claims of “fast growing” are not shown in the available data. It is not clear if students will want to live in apartments near a heavily trafficked railroad line, due to the noise of the railroad.

LaunchPad INW Weekly Newsletter on local innovation and entrepreneurship

Check out LaunchPad INW – the original, local social networking (and in person networking) group has transitioned to a weekly newsletter sharing information on local innovation and entrepreneurship activities.

To learn more, read “Welcome to LaunchPad“.

WSU-Spokane enrollment trend

Curious as to why we need a $16 million iconic bridge near the WSU-Spokane campus, I spotted this downward enrollment trend – the blue line is WSU-Spokane’s enrollment (data from WSU itself).


(Sorry for the missing X axis-it covers 1990 through Fall of 2012)

This may be reversing soon with the migration of the PharmD program from Pullman to Spokane, and the slowly expanding medical school project.

Will the $16 million iconic bridge play a role in reversing this trend?

“Spokane housing market thriving so far”

Like totally booming! Spokane housing market thriving so far – Spokesman.com – July 4, 2013.

Let’s play “Let’s look at the data!”


Source: Trulia.com for Spokane (city) only.

Sales are back to year 2000 levels and the median sale prices is back to 2005 levels! Break out the champagne! The market is “thriving” for sure!!!!!

The following data is available up through 2010 – by 2010, Spokane County was experiencing a net outward migration (more people moving out than moving in). Data comes from Forbes magazine “American Immigration” interactive online database.


Chart of industry sector growth (or loss) in Spokane County

This chart shows industry sector growth (or loss) in Spokane County, from 1990 to the present, with each sector presented as a percent of total employment.

The most notable items are that over approximately a quarter century, the growth sectors in Spokane are government (red line) and health care (blue line, at top), followed by “professional and business services”.  The goods producing sector (manufacturing and construction) has fallen considerably. Other major categories are flat to slightly down over this period.

This chart displays sectors as a percentage of total non-farm employment in Spokane County in order to show the change in sector size, over time, and independent of the change in population.

Bottom line:  The growth sectors in Spokane County are health care, government and transfer (mostly government) payments to individuals and the broad “professional and business services” category (see below). The combination of healthcare, government and transfer payment income accounts for about half of the personal income in Spokane County.

UPDATE: This post has been updated. The original chart inadvertently left out the “professional and business services” sector.


All data comes from the Washington State Employment Security Department.

What is the “Professional and Business Services” category?

It is a broadly defined category of workers ranging from those we think of as professionals to lower skilled jobs including waste management and security guards. About half the workers in this broad category are high skilled and about half are low skilled workers. See bold faced number of workers, below (data from Washington’s ESD for Q3 2012).

The sector comprises three groups with the Spokane number shown next to each in bold.

  • Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services: NAICS 54 (8,964 workers)
  • Management of Companies and Enterprises: NAICS 55 (3,064 workers)
  • Administrative and Support and Waste Management and Remediation Services: NAICS 56 (10,633 workers)

Historical data for the individual groups does not appear to be readily available so we do not know which of these groups are showing growth in jobs. The wages in the third and largest category are broadly about half or less than the wages in the first two categories.

This grouping also includes “Call Centers”, relatively low skilled, low wage jobs – a category that has grown strongly as GSI has extensively recruited call centers for Spokane. This suggests that the growth of this category may be weighted towards the low wage sector and not the higher paid, high skilled sector contained within the broad “Professional and Business Services” sector (I have not yet found official data to answer this question, though).

The definitions here are from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:

The Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services sector comprises establishments that specialize in performing professional, scientific, and technical activities for others. These activities require a high degree of expertise and training. The establishments in this sector specialize according to expertise and provide these services to clients in a variety of industries and, in some cases, to households. Activities performed include: legal advice and representation; accounting, bookkeeping, and payroll services; architectural, engineering, and specialized design services; computer services; consulting services; research services; advertising services; photographic services; translation and interpretation services; veterinary services; and other professional, scientific, and technical services.

The Management of Companies and Enterprises sector comprises (1) establishments that hold the securities of (or other equity interests in) companies and enterprises for the purpose of owning a controlling interest or influencing management decisions or (2) establishments (except government establishments) that administer, oversee, and manage establishments of the company or enterprise and that normally undertake the strategic or organizational planning and decision making role of the company or enterprise. Establishments that administer, oversee, and manage may hold the securities of the company or enterprise. Establishments in this sector perform essential activities that are often undertaken, in-house, by establishments in many sectors of the economy. By consolidating the performance of these activities of the enterprise at one establishment, economies of scale are achieved.

The Administrative and Support and Waste Management and Remediation Services sector comprises establishments performing routine support activities for the day-to-day operations of other organizations. These essential activities are often undertaken in-house by establishments in many sectors of the economy. The establishments in this sector specialize in one or more of these support activities and provide these services to clients in a variety of industries and, in some cases, to households. Activities performed include: office administration, hiring and placing of personnel, document preparation and similar clerical services, solicitation, collection, security and surveillance services, cleaning, and waste disposal services.