The Myth of SIRTI may finally come to an end

This column nails it – very well said: The Myth of SIRTI | Comment | The Pacific Northwest Inlander 

It [SIRTI] was always about a sales pitch. I recall one meeting when a former EWU president announced the latest “innovative” idea: It “promised” to create a new “high-tech” (it always had to be “high-tech”) company that in, say, five years would generate (pick a number) in revenue and (pick a number) new jobs. No evidence, just numbers, seemingly pulled out of a hat.

We’ve written a lot about SIRTI on this blog. Take a look. Shutting down this former funding gatekeeper would be a good thing. As a former Board member said, SIRTI did more to hinder economic growth than anything else.

Spokane “Startup Weekend” November 15-17

“Startup Weekend” is coming to McKinstry Innovation Center Nov 15-17 | LaunchPad INW.

LaunchPad News – Celebrate Local Startups

LaunchPad, Connect Northwest and Startup Weekend Spokane present a free event for entrepreneurs, startups and anyone interested in learning more about the emerging startup scene.

We are celebrating the Top 25 Startups for a hang out at a cool location with one of the best downtown views: The 3rd Floor Coworking Center and Courtyard at the Seahorn Building in Steam Plant Square, 157 S Lincoln. The event goes from 5:30pm-8:30pm.LaunchPad, Connect Northwest and Startup Weekend Spokane present a free event for entrepreneurs, startups and anyone interested in learning more about the emerging startup scene.

[They left out the date but their Facebook page says it is set for October 2nd…X]

We are celebrating the Top 25 Startups for a hang out at a cool location with one of the best downtown views: The 3rd Floor Coworking Center and Courtyard at the Seahorn Building in Steam Plant Square, 157 S Lincoln. The event goes from 5:30pm-8:30pm.

Attendees will:

-Meet founders and representatives from top local startups

-Learn more about the upcoming Startup Weekend Spokane

-Get an update from past Startup Weekend winners and participants

-Connect with local service providers supporting the growing Startup Ecosystem

Appetizers, Beer and Wine served. See you there!

RSVP via Facebook or email to paul@launchpadinw.com

via LaunchPad News.

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“.

“6 Things That Can Kill Your City’s Startup Community”

6 Things That Can Kill Your Citys Startup Community.

The co-founder of TechStars explains why communities fail to have an entrepreneurship community. He lists six broad categories that hinder startup and economic growth – and incredibly, Spokane ranks high on all six categories (most of which have been previously written about on this blog – See the History of Spokane Economic Plans and Recommendations, in links to right of this page).

This seems a reasonable summary that matches up with Spokane and may give hints as to how to overcome the problems …

Read more of this post

Resources

Independent online resources where you can monitor the long term trends yourself. They have the data used in the charts on this web site, and often have the same charts too.  This blog has brought up nothing new – everyone else knows what is going on!

Due to a recent Court ruling in Oregon, I may take this entire web site offline in the future. If the government provides more First Amendment protections to “journalists” than to citizens and the government decides who is a journalist, then what happens to the First Amendment  freedom of the press concept?  Basically, the First Amendment is thrown away as the government selectively choose who is a journalist and who is not.

“Spokane is a great place….Things are good in Spokane.”

We wish it were true!

But back in the reality-based world and this last post on this blog … by the numbers, Spokane is not getting better, it continues its long downward slide.

Spokane’s Economy In Easy to Read Charts

For decades, wages in Spokane have grown at half the rate of the rest of the state, falling further behind every year. Spokane wages average about 20% behind the rest of the state. Government and health care workers make close to King County wages – but everyone else here earns much less than the -20% wage  differential implies.

Every year, Spokane residents fall further and further behind their counterparts in the rest of Washington and in the nation. This chart shows that Spokane per capita income was at 90% of the State’s level in the 1970s, but has declined to less than 80% of the State’s level by 2008 (the orange line). In 2010, average wages rose 2.7% nationwide, but rose only 2.3% in Spokane County. Stated another way, average wages rose 17% faster everywhere else while and Spokane residents’ income fell relative to everyone else.

The next chart highlights the wage differential for those working in higher skilled jobs in Spokane.  Education and health care, which are shown, are similar to King County. (Government wage data was not available for this specific comparison). As we move to the right into higher skilled jobs like manufacturing, finance and engineering, the wage differentials are enormous. Spokane will never attract a national or world class high skilled workforce when wages in Spokane are up to 50% less than across the state. Which is why the State and local power brokers have identified Spokane as the low wage, low skilled industry cluster for the state.

 

Tons more data after the break …

Read more of this post

An innovative local company that might rescue your summer backyard

Yellow Jacket

Image by audreyjm529 via Flickr

Bothered by yellow jackets as much as we’ve been this summer? Check out RESCUE!® – Making pest control smarter.

Just discovered their excellent insect traps are made in Spokane Valley. As their t-shirt says, “There’s a trap for that”!

Spokane’s economic plan du jour

Picture of the Duncan Garden at Manito Park an...

Image via Wikipedia

Spokane’s future industry clusters:

  1. Retirees and transfer payments
  2. Health care services and health care academics
  3. Government, including education
  4. Manufacturing
  5. Low skill, low wage categories including retail, restaurants, hotels, recreation, trucking, warehousing.
  6. Various small categories including low skilled and high skilled workers.

Categories 1, 2 and 3 will account for 60+% of the local economy. Here’s the number of workers, per category, flipped from horizontal to vertical to present the relative size differences.  Retirees and transfer payments are not shown in the chart but would be in the top 3.

Here is the impact of transfer payments. As you can see, transfer payments are a large component of the local economy. For more information on transfer payments please see “Trend of Transfer Payments into Spokane County“.

Data Data from washington.reaproject.org

Retirees

Previously, many people retired from Southern California and took their large real estate capital gains to low cost Spokane. That source of retirees is diminished due to the housing collapse and its return in the future is not predictable. This is an important driver for health care, housing and service sectors.  Inbound migration may be at reduced levels for a long time.

Clusters

The State adopted an industrial clustering policy where the state selects the industry clusters to be supported in each region. The primary clusters for Spokane are health care, education, and trucking and warehouse operations. Manufacturing has been in a slow national decline for 30 years.

Health care is on a growth streak due to retirees, a doubling in individual use of medical services over the past 30 years, and more recently by expectations of “ObamaCare” leading to an expectation of increased demand for services primarily paid for by someone else.

Risks

The loss of retirees from Southern California produces risks to the area’s current strategy and may be why the 2011’s local economy continues to remain stuck well below 2007 levels. On the plus side, the nation’s overall large “baby boom” approaches retirement years. However, where they choose to settle in their retirement years will have a big impact – and some think relocating as part of retirement may be thing of the past, not of the future.

There is a risk that the health care act might not play out as expected. It is possible that court challenges may limit the growth in the health business sector.

There is a risk that shifting more money into health care services without addressing the exorbitant prices charged and excess consumer demand for health services paid for by other people means less money for the production side of the economy. This is not a sustainable path.

Spokane’s future is based on retirees and health care – but that future has risks. And a big risk is there is no plan B.

Low Wages Are By Design

Greater Spokane says our region’s primary competitive advantage is low wages and low land and housing costs (or stated another way, poverty). Per Greater Spokane, our region’s competitive advantage is low prices. And no one in power wants that to change.

Spokane will be the state’s low wage, low cost housing and low cost land destination. This appears to be by design.

Outside of the key clusters, wages and opportunities will be limited.

The substantial quantity of data collected on this web site, and reviews of all the economic plans going back to the 1980s show that the chronic low wages and limited opportunities are endemic to Spokane. Every one of the plans mentions these problems. These problems remain because not many people want to embrace change – low wages are a feature and are by design.  The area is settling into a future as a comfortable government-funded enclave of government and health care workers, and retirees collecting benefits.

Everything on this website has been mentioned before, often many times, in prior economic studies about Spokane. What I present on this website is not my opinion but is backed by data and numerous studies. This view is shared by business leaders of the past, by various politicians, current and former academic administrators and many more. The data tell this story, not me.

Why?

See the recommendations links at the right of this page. Lots of bad decisions were made in the past.

Hiatus

It’s been an interesting experience to go from wondering why so many businesses disappeared to finding out what really happened. The answer was not at all what was expected.

Unfortunately, no one cares. It’s always been this way in Spokane. As a friend said to us in the 90s, “It’s just a big small town, only bigger.” So true. (Well, at least one other person gets it…)

And nothing will change.

This web site will now be updated primarily for major events or changes.

The best cities in the world for finance, innovation and tourism

via The World’s 26 Best Cities for Business, Life, and Innovation – Derek Thompson – Business – The Atlantic. Nice article with discussion.

Top 15 U.S. Startup Accelerators and Incubators Ranked

Top 15 U.S. Startup Accelerators and Incubators Ranked; TechStars and Y Combinator Top The Rankings — Tech Cocktail.

Regionally, Boulder is #1, San Francisco #6, Seattle #7 and Salt Lake City #14 on the list of best start up accelerators.

Spokane’s Rogers High School Cybersecurity Team places 4th in the Nation

Arrrrrh! Go Pirates! Rogers cyberteam fourth at nationals – Spokesman.com – April 21, 2011.

Providence Sacred Heart CPR Training Video

Possibly not what you were expecting – this is dang good!!!!

Recommendations 2: Part 2 – How to “hide the decline”

Some local agencies and organizations provide some data, and some times, information, on their web sites – but sometimes they practice “hide the decline”. We do not know if this is due to lack of resources, is inadvertent, is an “honest mistake”, is due to sloppiness or carelessness, incompetence or deliberate decision to hide something, or that my common sense interpretation of what I see is just weird. We don’t know.

But if you want to hide the decline, some of the examples may give you some ideas 🙂

These examples involve good to outstanding organizations who are usually doing good to outstanding work. These comments are intended as suggestions for improvement and should be taken that way. They may be embarrassing to a few people – I am sorry if that is the case. The goal is to show how improvements can be made to make these items better!

Spokane International Airport – Lots of Numbers

SIA is a fine airport and has done a lot very good things. But sharing data?  Not where they need to be. I’ve covered this item already and am repeating this here in part to show what it took to get to the actual data and turn it into useful information.

The airport’s long term passenger load has been approximately flat since 1996. But you would not discover this unless you tortuously went through the tables of numbers they provide, but spread across many pages and many links. And you would definitely not know this because the historic data back to 1995 was well hidden on the web site. When you click on a link for the data for a single month, you see a URL like this: http://spokaneairports.net/Pass_stats/12-10ep.pdf

If you delete the filename at the end to leave http://spokaneairports.net/Pass_stats/

you obtain the full file directory of older data going back many years. While painstaking, each monthly report can be transcribed, by hand, into spreadsheet, and turned into a useful chart.

Hidden deep within this file directory is a document named historic.pdf that provides historic data. There is no clickable link on the airports web site to access this data. But the file becomes visible if you use the trick to truncate the URL as shown.

Regardless of the effort to get to the data, it should not be hidden. SIA should have charts up on their web site.  Making it visible would help local leadership make informed decisions.

When this data was combined with a forecast chart in the airport’s master plan (issued in 2000), we saw that the forecast was wrong the year it was issued and deviated further and further away from reality every year since. The forecast part of the chart had to be interpolated from a chart printed in the master plan; the data was not available.

The airport management announced in the fall of 2010 that they would – ten years later – be updating their master plan with a revision expected in 2011.

By comparison, check out SeaTac Airport Statistics. The PDF reports at the top create some nice charts (would be better if they were visible on the web page) and data can be downloaded in .xls spreadsheet files. Here’s an example of how SeaTac makes their data accessible – I just opened their PDF report:

I tried to identify the money spent on infrastructure improvements at SIA over the past decade. That information is not obviously available on the SIA web site. I eventually found it in an EWU study on economic effects of the airport (about $190 million of improvements over the past 8 years). Historic and trend data on revenues and spending should be easily available to the public so we know how our fee and tax money is being spent. This applies to all local governments.

I think SIA is a fine airport – the new airport director and management will likely do a better job of sharing important information with stakeholders in the future.

Washington State University – Funny Press Releases

I am big supporter of WSU; we need more support for higher education in this state, not less. And I will discuss that further in Part 3 and Part 4.

With that in mind, I found the following example to be funny. The following text appeared in the 2010 press release on spring semester enrollment. Similar wording was used in 2009 and 2011. Can you spot the odd one out?

The university’s fastest-growing campus continues to be WSU Tri-Cities, which enrolled 1,508 students, an increase of 160 or 11.9 percent over last spring. Enrollment at WSU Vancouver is 2,892, up 105 students or 3.8 percent over spring 2009.

The Pullman and Spokane campuses, which are considered one campus for state enrollment reporting purposes, showed an overall increase of 1.3 percent or 265 students over spring 2009. The Pullman campus enrollment is 18,629 students and WSU Spokane has 1,311 enrolled for spring.

When the enrollment rose at branch campuses, the enrollment increase was highlighted.  For WSU-Spokane, only an enrollment number is provided. That’s a data point – not information.

The omission of whether there was an increase or decrease made me laugh – this is a press release issue. The local media never noticed the decline in enrollment at WSU-Spokane.

WSU has  an Institutional Research office that provides a lot a TON of data –  on enrollments including in downloadable .xls spreadsheet format.  Charts would be nice but with easily accessible data, we can create our own charts. WSU (overall) and the IR group are doing a great job.

The chart above and below are produced by me from the enrollment data provided by WSU’s Office of Institutional Research.

It is hard to see but the blue line, which is Spokane’s enrollment, goes down. I created this chart and an accident of how I made the chart presents an interesting way to hide a decline – just cover it up with other lines on the chart! This is a common technique but blame me for this chart, not WSU!

To see the decline a bit better, here is a chart showing only the branch campus enrollments. The blue line and section represents WSU-Spokane.

WSU provides a lot of great data through their Institutional Research web site. It could be improved with more charts – but they are to be commended for providing the raw data. But the press release wording-that’s just funny!

The WSU-Spokane campus will be revisited in Part 4.

The News Media – Lacking Context

It would be helpful if local news would present trend charts showing how things have changed over time. Typically, they present the raw number someone put in the press release (like the above). Without seeing the historical trend in news reports, the story is just noise and not useful information that the reader can use for understanding.

For example, compare seeing today’s stock report with no knowledge of where the market has been yesterday, last month or during the past years.  Which is more useful? A single stock price quote or a chart? Numbers in most news stories are just numbers and devoid of important context.

When I tracked down the companies that left the area or downsized, it was hard to find out how many employees the companies once had. When a company folded or moved out, and if the closure was even covered (we cover new business openings but sometimes miss closures) some news reported the loss of employees as of the last day. But most of these companies had been downsizing for a period of time. I saw one report that said when Agilent closed, it was the loss of 99 jobs. Really? The company had been downsizing from a high of at least 1,500 staff.  Some old reports said that when contract workers, consultants, on-site vendors and others were included, the site in Liberty Lake might have had nearly 2,000 people total (SR news article quoting former Agilent Human Resource manager). Seeing the total loss in context – from between 1,500-2,000 workers is quite a bit different than reading about a loss of 99 workers (update: the SR, by the way, reported this with the full context).  When Itronix closed, 380 workers were affected. But just before that, the company had 450 workers and may be even 520 said some old news reports.

Seeing the full context helps us understand the overall impact of a business that is growing, shrinking or closing.

With all the cutbacks at the local media, I assume they lack the time and resources to do the job that they really want to do (I think this is the main issue). The problem affects many stories. For example, reports about local and state budgets never show us past budget plans, actual spending or tax revenues or trends in those values.  This is critical information needed for the reader to put the present situation into historical context and see what trends there might be in spending or taxes.

And then there’s the happy talk news – read the comments to this news story – especially the one by “Zelda” … see how leaving out the context creates a “fake but accurate” style of report.

Local Government – More Info Please!

Most local government agencies need to greatly improve their data reporting to the public.  How has their spending changed over time? Their staff? Their revenue collection?  What metrics do they collect to monitor their effectiveness? Do the metrics show improvements over time?

GreaterSpokane, Inc – Pick Cherries!

A time honored technique to minimize a decline is to just move the start or end points of your graph  – delete the data you would rather others did not see.

In 2010, I looked at patent production per 100,000 population, which is a measure sometimes used to indicate a region’s innovation capability.  GreaterSpokane, Inc (GSI), used the following table to show only a minor drop in local patent production:

The “trick” here was to set the start to 2004. In reality, the local patent production rate fell by -75% since the late 1990s. The chart above may have been due to insufficient research, an “honest mistake”, carelessness or that someone else handed them the chart and they just republished it.  They may not have been picking cherries.

GSI’s job is to promote the region. Understandably their focus is promotion and to highlight the positive. However, as a means for understanding our local economy and planning purposes, GSI’s reports can be misleading as they focus on the positive and miss the negative.

GSI’s web site also has a lot of out of date information. They need to audit every page – and verify that every claim is still true or meaningful.  For example, about 25% of their list of top local tech employers are either out of business, not actually tech companies or not local.

Various local web sites also have lists of “awards” or proclamations by magazines about life in Spokane – but most are undated. Tracking some of them down, some are old and no longer mean anything useful about today’s Spokane.

There are other examples but you get the idea.

As we will see in the next two examples, when we see sloppiness, it makes Spokane look dated, quaint and out of date. We can do a lot better than this!

Terabyte Triangle – Spokane is a High Tech Hot Spot!

This phrase “Spokane is a High Tech Hot Spot – Network World Magazine” appears on many local promotional web sites.  Unfortunately, it is not what Network World actually said. What Network World actually said all the way back in 1998 was that “Spokane is not a high tech hot spot, but is warming up“.

Inaccurate claims such as that are sloppy or untruthful. Take your pick.  Who knows where this phrasing first appeared – its on several local web sites and I suspect the claim developed a life of its own.

DowntownSpokane.org

This is a very useful web site with great information about downtown happenings.  But like the above, some pages are hopelessly out of date.

We begin with, oh dear:

  • Spokane is a high tech hot spot – Network World

Then,

  • Downtown Spokane is a great place for high-tech with more miles of fiber per capita than any other city in the nation

The “more miles of fiber per capita than any other city in the nation” is really, really old. No source has ever been provided for this old claim.

This is quote also has a life of its own across many local web sites. GSI quotes IEEE Today’s Engineer for the source of this, giving the claim a bit of authority. But some sleuthing around suggests that IEEE Today’s Engineer lifted the claim directly from a local promotional web site … nearly identical wording appears on other local web sites up to two years prior to the published story. That does not look good … And today, Spokane ranks #17 out of 19 cities in Washington for overall Internet access speed. In other words the above claim, if it was true once upon a time, is doubtfully true today. But what ever …

Going down the page, this claim is  embarrassing:

  • More than 20 Downtown buildings have been rewired to provide easy and affordable access to high-speed—and redundant—internet connectivity

Only 20? Hello? It’s 2011 and this may be a surprise but in many parts of the country, personal homes even have fiber optic connections today!

  • Spokane is already home to high-tech firms including General Dynamics, Cyan, Vivato, Telect and Itron. This clustering of mutually beneficial businesses provides a synergism that attracts businesses providing support services to help high-tech companies grow.

Except that General Dynamics (Itronix) is closed and gone, Vivato is closed and gone and Cyan and Telect have both shrunk their local presence considerably from their hey day.  But other than that …

Always a nice supportive quote:

  • “There are clusters of established companies here that high tech start-ups can draw from, plus a lot of interest in creating business to business relationships.”

Except the quoted CEO was with a start up that is no longer in business. Nice quote, too bad its not quite relevant anymore.

Other pages (and here too) are dated and should be brought up to date. The above is just a small sampling of questionable data and claims seen on local “official” web sites.

Have you spotted a pattern in promotional web sites? They are often old and out of date and say things that are no longer true.  Collectively it reflects badly on Spokane.  Attention to detail? Not here. Inaccuracies and incorrect claims do not help promote the area at all.

I am sorry these observations appear embarrassing to some local groups. Whether I write about them here or not they are out there for the world to see and they are embarrassing. Let’s pay attention to details and fix them and make these web sites even better!

Recommendation 2: Part 2

For what ever reason – honest mistakes, laziness, sloppiness, lack of attention to detail or perhaps  “hiding the decline”, the sort of things described above – and those are only a partial list – suggest “good enough” is common here.  Parts 3 and 4 will address why good enough is not good enough – we need to aim high and seek excellence.

On a brighter note – Good ideas come from other good ideas!

Good ideas come from analyzing, synthesizing and understanding what we see around us. Getting an accurate picture of the situation in Spokane and at local institutions will help all of us know where we are and help us to make better decisions to get to where we want to go!

Local agencies need to be producing useful information, not just data points (see Part 1).

Local agencies and organizations need to making their useful information readily accessible to everyone (Part 2).

Local agencies and organizations need to provide accurate information.

The more accurate data and useful information that all of us see, the better the quality of our decision making!

The Part 2 recommendation is then:

  • Accurate data, portrayed accurately is best for all of us. All of the mistakes above (and that is just a sample) when seen together portray an area that is sloppy or careless. This does not make Spokane look good.
  • Clean up old promotional web sites, audit every page and every claim
  • For those of us who consume data and information, keep your eyes wide open for sloppiness in the data provided to us – be skeptical!
  • If you have responsibility for any of the above – let’s fix these and make them better!

Part 3 reviews the low wage problem and hypothesizes that we’ve been investing in pouring concrete for far too long. For the 21st century we need to invest in people and ideas, not more concrete.

Part 4 follows up with more on our concrete obsession, but adds that we seem to aim low instead of aiming high.

Recommendations 2: Part 1 – Charts

Eastern Washington University

Image via Wikipedia

Recommendation 2: Part 1: Charts!

Part 1 is the boring part. Parts 2-4 are much more interesting 🙂

In early 2009, I wondered what happened to so many manufacturing and technology firms that used to be around Spokane? I started collecting data, which grew into an amusing hobby.

A lot of data is available, and thanks to the Internet and Google, its is not too hard to find if you are a little persistent in digging. I have featured the EWU logo because they have many excellent resources available on their web site.

Much of the data about our area is presented as individual numbers, sometimes tables of numbers, and rarely, charts. It is hard to identify patterns or trends in individual numbers and tables of numbers – unless the data is converted in to some type of chart or we run the original data through a statistical analysis.

Translating data from numbers in to charts converts data into information and then into knowledge. We can quickly see at a glance that poverty has been increasing or that the percent of high school seniors taking the SAT have been dropping or that EWU graduations have increased while enrollment at WSU Spokane has decreased in the last two years.

In most cases, local data has been presented poorly probably because no one thought to take an extra step and turn the data into a form that would be readily accessible to the public: in other words, a chart.

Unfortunately, in other cases, the data has been hidden in hard to find places. Some agencies have translated data into charts, but selected start or end dates to present the trend they wished you to see and not what the complete set of data actually shows. Some provide the data in PDF files which cannot be copied into a spreadsheet. Turning the data into knowledge requires manually re-typing the data tables which discourages the public from turning data into useful information.

To improve local planning – and understanding – all local organizations that are producing data, and especially all public agencies, should present their data as data tables that can be downloaded, and as charts that can be quickly viewed by interested members of the public. This should be easily accessible and viewable on their respective web sites.

There is a fancy name for this called data visualization – its possible to produce some creative charts and interactive data explorers. That would be nice – but a good first step would be to provide the data and a simple chart!

Therefore, the first recommendation is Charts – and  – “share the data”. A sub recommendation is to provide the data table and explain why the data starts where it does and why it ends where it does. No more censoring the data to show the trend some one wanted.

Several agencies or organizations do an outstanding job of displaying the data they collect in relatively easy to use tables and charts. They are doing wonderful work that is under appreciated.

Examples:

  • Community Indicators of Spokane, operated by Eastern Washington University. Outstanding web site.
  • WorkForceExplorer.com, operated by the Washington State Employment Security Department. Click on Researchers/data analysts, and then Numbers and Trends or Industry Trends.
  • City of Spokane Mayor’s Office 2011 Budget Proposal. Good news is that the downloadable Powerpoint presentation has lots of charts.  The bad news is that this should be on a web page and not require installing special software, and the data itself is in text tables in a PDF file. It should be available in an .xls or .csv file format so that others can ask “What if?” questions. There also need to be some long term trend charts. How much was spent in 1995? 2000? 2005?  How much tax revenue was collected in past years?  How many employees were there in 2000 or 2005? See how the data could be turned into useful information?
  • This year, the City of Spokane produced a map showing where roads had been plowed of snow, and which roads were up next. Bravo!
  • Washington Regional Economic Analysis Project. “Regional analysis … without paralysis.” As they say, “Retrieve-Organize-Synthesize-Analyze-Diagnose … with the click of a mouse!”  Another outstanding web site.
  • Washington Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction “State Report Card”. Excellent. Some school districts republish selected data on their own web sites (very good), some provide prominent links (very good too), some provide slightly hidden links on sub-menus or pages, and some provide no links (not good at all).
  • Washington State University Office of Institutional Research. Raw data is available as downloadable .xls spreadsheet files. Would be nice to have some charts of the data right on the web site but otherwise, this is very useful.  Strangely enough, though, an amusing example from WSU’s press releases will be featured in Part 2 regarding hiding something.
  • Spokane Community College Office of Institutional Research. Good but I could not find contemporary graduation rates, a rather important metric to understand how they are doing.
  • Eastern Washington Office of Institutional Research.

All of the above provide great templates for local government, other agencies and organizations to use in designing their own ways to improve their sharing of data with the public.

Recommendations 2: Part 1

This seems obvious but it is not yet widely adopted:

  • Use existing web sites to deliver the raw data and information directly to the public
  • Provide data tables in downloadable formats for public access
  • Present all data in readily accessible charts
  • Provide an explanation for the data – how was it measured, acquired, and why is data available only for the selected dates.

I worry that we may not see many charts from local agency and organization web sites today because they never created them for internal use either. They could be managing in the dark, making decisions without access to critical information, and making less than ideal choices.

Part 2 will look at great ways to “hide the decline”. When stuff goes south, there are many tricks to use to hide that from the public. Part 2 will look at some local examples.

Recommendations 2: Parts 1-4

The final recommendations will start coming out this week.

And the final recommendations that you’ll see will be:

Let’s invest in people and ideas, not concrete.

Aim high. Really high.

This will make sense when we get there. Each part should appear at about 8 am, one each day.

  • Part 1 – Charts  – this one’s boring
  • Part 2 – How to “hide the decline” – warming up a bit
  • Part 3 – Wages and pouring concrete – the root cause problem
  • Part 4 – Plans
  • Afterword

Dealing with the State’s budget shortage

The budget issues and solutions to that generally fall in to either of:

  1. Cut spending
  2. Raise taxes (and fees)

Or, both.

The other solution is to get our economy moving again, increasing the number of employed workers, decreasing the number of unemployed, and decreasing the number of underemployed.  Workers earning wages and providing solutions to real problems lead to greater tax collections. We want and need to have all of our human resources put to productive uses and preferably their most productive use.

How to do that? Perhaps not much can be done in the short term but we will want to ensure that decisions related to (1) and (2) above do not cause harm to long term economic growth in the state.

Unfortunately, the discussion on what to do about the tax revenue short fall is focused on (1) and (2) without much consideration given to the ultimate solution: getting our economy growing again.

What do you think? What should we do?

Update: There is one other possibility: better efficiency. I won’t say much but once upon a time I worked for a bit for a government agency. It was the least efficient and least effective organization I had ever seen and there was zero interest in improving anything to better serve stakeholders. Have we really wrung all appropriate inefficiencies out of our organizations?

Amazon.com has 1,900 job openings – in Seattle

Consider Amazon’s online jobs board: It lists about 1,900 openings in Seattle, at least twice as many as a year ago. More than 900 call for techies.

via Business & Technology | Amazon.com on a hiring spree | Seattle Times Newspaper.

Boeing wins $35B USAF Contract

Boeing news | Boeing wins huge Air Force tanker contract | Seattle Times Newspaper.

This is great news that the contract went to Boeing.

In terms of direct impacts in Spokane, there are some aerospace components manufacturers and suppliers in the area that may receive additional contract work from Boeing.

In terms of indirect impacts, Fairchild Air Force Base (adjacent to Spokane) is home to a large aerial tanker refueling squadron.  Because the new KC-X tanker is much larger (based on the Boeng 767) than the older KC-135 (based on the Boeing 707 platform), the Air Force will need fewer of the tankers than it has today. There have been past reports that the new tankers will require less maintenance staff than the very old fleet of KC-135s and may result in staffing changes at nearby Fairchild AFB; this would have happened with either the Boeing or Airbus aircraft.

The first of the new tankers is not expected until 2017.

Anecdotal story on the collapse of innovation economy in Spokane

Jason, an attorney with a degree in electrical engineering, lost his job with a Spokane patent law firm last May. Their income tumbled from a salary of $145,000 a year to $585 a week in unemployment.

via Homeowners burdened by bureaucracy when trying to get out – Spokesman.com – Feb. 20, 2011.

Previous coverage of this topic: Patent production in Spokane has dropped by a staggering 75% since 1998.

Patents are a proxy for the level of science and technology innovation that a region is capable of producing.

This anecdote also illustrates the low demand for highly skilled, highly educated workers in Spokane.

Political Comment

The collapse of the Spokane economy ought to be at the top of the list of what local politicians and cheerleaders discuss publicly. It’s not.  Except for frequent calls for new taxes and tax hikes – the consequence of a failed economy – politicians refuse to discuss the problems facing Spokane. Local politicians either fail to understand this situation, fail to lead or have chosen not to lead on this critical issue. Read more of this post