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

Greater Spokane Inc acknowledges 60% drop in Spokane Top Tech Companies

The details are here.

Their list of about 50 “Top High Tech Companies” in Spokane has been revised to about 20. And 5 of those are not what we’d call “high tech” if they were in Seattle or Silicon Valley. Another list says there were once 150 companies … cool … we’ve gone from 150 to 15.

Comparison of average wages between Spokane and King Counties

A sample of job categories was selected from the Workforce Explorer web site for Industry Trends. A few were dropped out because the job category did not exist in both counties.

  • Most Spokane County workers are paid less and professional high skilled private sector workers are paid a lot less.
  • While we have come to expect lower pay in Spokane, some of the differences are shocking.
Table of average wages in $s in Spokane versus King County. The difference is shown in the right most column. Bright green is higher. Dark green is “close”. Bright red is -24% or worse difference.
Occupation Spokane King County Spokane Pay
Public Schools/Education
Teacher 33207 36051 -8%
Elementary Teacher 58227 55921 4%
Education administrator 100703 102037 -1%
Government workers
Firefighter 61987 72591 -15%
Police and Sheriff 64560 72205 -11%
Zoologists and wildlife biologists 57261 62254 -8%
Health Care
Pharmacist 107792 95782 13%
Registered Nurse 65735 77800 -16%
Physician assistant 88684 100508 -12%
Dentist 147660 159630 -7%
Nursing aides 24342 30917 -21%
Private Sector Jobs
Science and Technology
Industrial engineer 69391 83122 -17%
Mechanical engineer 62946 82890 -24%
Software engineer, apps 70504 94071 -25%
Software engineer, systems 74135 99318 -25%
Computer programmer 54288 95782 -43%
Chemist 50917 73321 -31%
Chemical technician 38653 35160 10%
Law & Business
Lawyer 90215 118674 -24%
Paralegal 35344 53588 -34%
Marketing manager 108781 125807 -14%
Sales manager 82235 119374 -31%
Advertising/promotions manager 48198 101550 -53%
Architect 83145 72237 15%
Editors 58218 61492 -5%
Reporters and correspondents 40346 54105 -25%
Labor
Roofer 35953 46263 -22%
Truck Driver 39584 43626 -9%
Sheet metal worker 35946 57792 -38%
Cooks, all other 23731 29322 -19%
Retail sales 21486 24151 -11%
Bus and truck mechanic 42489 51252 -17%
Hairdresser, stylist, cosmetologist 33459 32702 2%
Mobile heavy equip. mechanic 41968 59303 -29%

Wage data from the State’s Workforce Explorer Industry Trends section.

What It Means
  • Education sector pays about the same.
  • Government and health care pay some what less.
  • Private sector highly educated workers are paid remarkably less.
  • Those considering moving to Spokane need to consider the income ramifications of their career sector.
  • At present pay levels, there will not be a science or technology cluster in Spokane. With extraordinarily low pay, Spokane will have difficulty attracting high quality scientists and engineers needed to create a regionally or nationally competitive science and technology cluster.
  • At present pay levels, the same issue impacts creation of national classes businesses.
  • “Editors” average is about the same in both counties. This may account for why there is little news coverage of the chronic low wage problem in Spokane – low wages do not affect them!  But reporters’ pay – ick!
Would be interesting to compare pay scales to Benton-Franklin counties, and to Clark County (Vancouver, Wa) area.

Related articles

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.

Forecast Economic Impacts of the Spokane Medical School

Update: The original economic study has largely imploded. As of 2014, its bogged down in politics and in fighting between the UW and WSU. There is no longer a target date by which the  Spokane med school would open.

 

It is pouring down rain again today so guess I will make some charts.

Data for these charts comes from “America’s Next Great Academic Health Science Center“, part of the economic study to justify a Spokane medical school.  I chose to create some charts in a different form than those that appear within the consultant’s report. The new charts tell a somewhat different and unexpected story than we’ve heard from the promoters.

According to the study, conservative and aggressive models were created for the estimates. It is not clear whether these charts represent the conservative, aggressive or a combination model.  The report section that I could see does not provide the range of potential forecasts.

As will be explained in a moment, local promoters appear to be counting growth that would occur whether there is a medical school here or not. This discovery was unexpected. While there are issues with the economic study, the larger problem is that its conclusions have been presented in a misleading way by local promoters.

Here is the chart from the study showing the overall economic impacts of a health science center (not a medical school per se).

I created a new chart to break out the components of this forecast economic impact. This chart is not available in the study:

The chart above shows the estimated economic impact of the different components of having a health science center in Spokane.  The largest single component is growth of the health care industry (the pink area labeled “Industry g..” but cut off in the legend) and the second is the nursing school growth. These account for half of the total 2030 estimate – and will almost certainly happen with or without the medical school.

The sum total is $1.6 Billion for Eastern Washington by 2030 and over $2 Billion for the state. As will be shown in a moment, much of this growth would occur whether a medical school was here or not.

The study itself is about the proposed economic impacts of the WSU-Spokane Health Science Center, of which the medical school is one part.  Local promoters have focused on the medical school and claim up to $2 billion in economic benefits from the medical school. That is misleading. Much of the growth described in the study will happen regardless of there being a medical school in Spokane.

The next chart is the same information, but in a form that makes this more obvious. Almost all of the economic impact by 2030 comes from the continuing growth of the health care industry (which would almost certainly happen without a medical school here) and WSU Nursing, which would also likely happen without a medical school here. They also include WSU Pharmacy in the total, which is moving to Spokane. The move was approved before the State approved half the funding to start construction on a new health science building that would house a future medical school.

Next, we look at the employment impact forecast.


Same information as the above chart, but in a different form to make this more obvious.

And again, we see the the large component of employment growth is the hospitals and health care industry itself, followed by a more than doubling in WSU Nursing and Pharmacy program employment in the last few years of the 20+ year forecast period.

They assume that a percent of graduates of the program will stay in Eastern Washington and thereby, increase employment and economic impacts. That’s fine. The implied argument is that health care workers would not come to Eastern Washington unless they were trained here. Interesting argument to put in a promotional study …

However, this thinking is flawed in terms of measuring medical school impact: whether or not there was a medical school here, the market will determine the number of health care workers needed in Eastern Washington. Whether they are produced here or not, most of this health care sector job growth and economic impact will occur anyway.  This is apparent from the pink line in the charts, above – it goes straight up from the very beginning, even though the other parts of the plan are still being implemented.

Don’t confuse what I just wrote – I support having the medical school here – but parts of this economic impact study, and specifically, how it has been presented to the public, are misleading. Major components of this growth would occur with or without the medical school.

Let’s state this another way if you do not understand. Demands for health care services drive the number of jobs. If there is no demand, there would be no jobs.   The medical school does not just create thousands of health care worker jobs unless there is market need. There is a market need and we would prefer to have the benefit of producing those workers locally. But ultimately, whether we produce them locally or not does not matter – if there is a market need, those workers will be trained somewhere and they will fill the available jobs. It does not matter if we have the medical school here or not.  Those jobs will occur anyway if the market demands them.

The genuine economic impacts are those of the health science center and WSU-Spokane itself, not the growth of the health care industry overall.

Finally, the statewide impacts.  And once again, the largest single component is growth of the health care industry. The following chart title is incorrect – this chart refers to the employment impact and the vertical scale is the number of jobs created state wide due to the Spokane Riverpoint campus health science program.

Outside of health care industry growth (which I argue will happen whether or not there is a medical school here), almost all of the growth in the other categories is in the last 7 years of the forecast period. The next chart shows the sum total economic impact for Eastern Washington.  As can be seen, about half the forecast impact occurs in the last 7 or 8 years of the 20+ year period – when the growth curve accelerates.

This puts most of the big growth way into the future when:

  • The ability to forecast accurately is the least likely due to it being impossible to make assumptions 14 to 20+ years in the future with any accuracy.
  • No one will look back at the original forecast

It appears the economic impacts of a Spokane medical school will be less than that advertised by promoters.  A reasonable guess is that the actual impact will be less than half of the top line number – which is not a bad result either.

Please read past comments on the art and difficulty of forecasting here.

I could be completely wrong but there is a lot of wiggle room in this economic impact forecast.  It would be better to see and understand the full range of forecasts and assumptions. Unfortunately, local promoters have misled the community about the impact of the medical school. An accurate statement would be that the WSU-Spokane health science center will have many economic impacts on the region, but the impact of the medical school is just one component of that.

The first sentence of this news article: “Jun. 11–A four-year medical school in Spokane would support more than 9,000 new jobs by 2030 and generate $1.6 billion in new economic activity, a new study says.” illustrates the effectiveness of misleading public relations. The statement appears to be completely wrong – and twisted into a lie.

Update: Controversy as UW bad mouths the WSU-Spokane medical school program and fails to recruit sufficient 2nd year students for the WSU-Spokane located  UW-WWAMI medical school program.

Data Tables

Read more of this post

KHQ story on downtown real estate vacancies and new businesses

Video Landing Page – KHQ Right Now – News and Weather for Spokane and North Idaho |.

381 Spokane groups lose their IRS tax exempt status

Go here and search for “Spokane”. (Two of the groups that appear in the list have Spokane in their name but are not based in Spokane.) The data base is provided by The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Many have lost their tax exempt status due to failure to file required paperwork. Amongst some of the organizations on the list linked above are the

  • Washington Air National Guard
  • American Legion
  • United Steelworkers
  • Spokane Unlimited and Focus Spokane (economic boosters)
  • Spokane Valley Fire Department
  • Spokane County Sheriff’s Posse
  • Shriners International
  • Lions International
  • Knights of Columbus
  • Central Pre Mix (a non profit? It’s on the list)
  • Intercollegiate Center for Nursing

And many more. For many, this is likely a failure to file paperwork, possibly IRS errors due to similar names, errors perhaps in the database linked above, or some of the smaller organizations may no longer exist.

Very nice promotional video done by Grand Rapids, MI

Spokane Bloomsday Event Participants, ranked by year

1996 had the most participants.

2011 ranks 8th on the list, 2010 at 11th on the list and 2009 at 17th on the list.

1 1996 61298
2 1991 60104
3 1994 60037
4 1995 59100
5 1993 57680
6 1992 57651
7 1988 57298
8 2011 56640
9 1989 56280
10 1997 55270
11 2010 55090
12 1990 54869
13 1987 54261
14 1999 53898
15 1998 53389
16 2002 51282
17 2009 51259
18 2000 50401
19 2001 49532
20 1986 48406
21 2008 47528
22 2006 44756
23 2003 44641
24 2007 44180
25 2005 43842
26 2004 43514
27 1985 39662
28 1984 33312
29 1983 28173
30 1982 22210
31 1981 17000
32 1980 13576
33 1979 10082
34 1978 5460
35 1977 1400

2011 Spokane Bloomsday Race Total Runners and Walkers

Chart includes total registered and total finishers.

Complete data table after the break

Read more of this post

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.

Participants in the Spokane Susan G Komen Race for the Cure

The series of running (and walking) events started in 1983 and today takes place in cities all over the world to raise money for breast cancer research. The event was first held in Spokane in 2006.  Based on prior years, the event expected up to 11,000 participants in 2011.

Update: KREM, a race sponsor, said 8,700 runners in 2011.  Oddly, the SR “hides the decline” with its peculiar report saying “about 9000” and then later in their story says “close to last years” total of 8,800.  But never gives us the actual number for 2011. That’s bad reporting.

Sad

The racist comments to this news story about today’s march against hate are sad and embarrassing for Spokane.  More here. Tragic. A bit better here, but sad tales too.

GSI goes to DC, SIRTI could be chopped, and we’ll pour more concrete

Further updates are going to be like these – Twitter-sized and infrequent.

  • (Correction May 2011: The source that provided the information for this item was not correct. As always, if you spot errors on this blog, please leave a comment. Thank you. According to the above, ISR employs about 40 people and is not out of business.) Original incorrect comment: Isothermal Systems Research (aka SprayCool) of Liberty Lake is out of business. At their peak, they employed up to 250 people.
  • GreaterSpokane, Inc (GSI) sent 40+ lobbyists to Washington, DC. Their agenda is to get Federal money for health care, med school, military and pouring concrete. 
  • Med school, Health, med school, ag and energy science, and med school are on the agenda but mentions tech only in terms of seeking a $500,000 Federal grant to keep SIRTI alive…
  • SIRTI is on the state’s chopping block. The Legislature may merge SIRTI with Seattle’s Washington Technology Center.
  • GreaterSpokane posted a blog item where they thought they linked to a web site about the Spokane Waste to Energy web site but instead link to a spoof website. Embarrassing. Again.
  • A proposed electric trolley route for downtown Spokane has apparently been selected:

  • The path serves local power brokers – Cowles, Avista, GU, government, and the health care block. Paid for by everyone except the Kendall Yard’s folks who pay no taxes for 12 years.
  • Pouring concrete to benefit a few smells like a cargo cult. If we pour enough concrete, things are bound to get better! The trolley is effectively a done deal – we are going through the motions of pretending to have public input. Same as the new pedestrian bridge over the railroad. Also a done deal to benefit the downtown core.
  • What is the new South University district? Last year we called this the International District but take a look at the map.
  • Overall Spokane economy sputtering but shows some signs of life. Different parts will have hit bottom at different times.

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.

Spokane’s Low Cost of Living

The official release from Greater Spokane, Inc:

Spokane Metropolitan Statistical Area’s composite index for 2010 is 93.8, 6.2% lower than the national average. Spokane’s health care costs were 9.8% higher than the national average, but housing and utility costs were considerably below average. Housing costs were 14.5% below the national average, and utilities 10.3% less. Transportation ranked 9.1% over the national average, however, grocery items and miscellaneous goods and services were 7.6% and 3.5% below the national average, respectively.

via Spokane Still Has a Low Cost of Living.

And previous post on why this is not something to brag about.

And left out of the GSI report is that Spokane’s per capita income is 20% less than the rest of Washington, and 15% less than the United States, and falling further behind over the past 30 years.

GSI is effectively promoting low wages and a high poverty rate as a comparative advantage. This makes no sense what so ever.

Spokane International Film Festival Underway

The 13th Annual Spokane International Film Festival schedule is now online! Join us February 3–13 at AMC and The Magic Lantern for the best features and shorts from around the world.

via SpIFF – Spokane International Film Festival.

Greater Spokane, Inc continues to promote poverty as Spokane’s comparative advantage

As noted previously on this web site (and more below) local home prices are often considered a proxy for local wages. Spokane’s low home prices are an indicator of the area’s low wage structure.

Kevin Dudley of Greater Spokane, Inc posted the following on LaunchPadINW (read the whole thing – GSI will be publishing this data and conclusions shortly):

Most notably, to me anyway, is housing. Spokane’s home prices are 14.5 percent below the national average. Only Mobile, Alabama came in lower out of our peer cities. That’s important, to those looking at buying a home for the first time.

So that’s the cost of living in Spokane. Pretty good, I think (again, I’m biased, but I don’t care). Is this what keeps you in Spokane?

via What brought you to Spokane, and what keeps you here? – LaunchPad – INW.

Low home prices do not indicate what we think they indicate – and GSI’s spin is already underway in the media. If this were true, then Mobile, Alabama would be an even better place to move to, right?

Let’s look at the claims one step at a time.

First, academic research suggests housing prices are an indicator of a local area’s economic status (although one paper contests that). For example:

A New Perspective on the Relationship Between House Prices And Income:

We show that a strong linear relationship exists between income and house price quantiles in Sydney (Australia), Houston, and the state of Texas. This suggests that the house price distribution is closely approximated by the income distribution after a location-scale transformation.

In English, low home prices correlate with low wages.

Or, What Are Cities Worth? Land Rents, Local Productivity, and the Capitalization of Amenity Values:

Private land values vary mainly from quality-of-life differences, while social land (or total-amenity) values vary mainly from firm-productivity differences. The most valuable cities are generally coastal, sunny, and have large or well-educated populations.

In English, well-educated working age populations correspond also with higher incomes.

Or, from Consumer City:

In cities with more educated populations, rents have gone up more quickly than wages since 1970-the natural interpretation of this fact is that while productivity has risen in places with more educated workers, quality of life has risen faster.

Second, GSI compares Spokane to Mobile, Alabama. GSI says Spokane has lower home prices for comparable cities except for Mobile, Alabama, which is even lower – and also has a very high poverty rate (as does Spokane). In Mobile, only 18.6% of those over 25 have a 4 year college degree or higher versus 25% in Spokane.

By this odd definition of low home prices being a good thing, that would make Mobile better than Spokane then? This makes no sense.

While home prices are a little below the national average, Spokane’s average wages are 15% below the United States and 20% below the State of Washington averages.

See also:

There is no polite way to put this so I will dispense with being polite:

By the economic and demographic report card, GSI has failed. To this day, GSI continues to promote things that are not true (more here and a whopper of a lie here told by another promoter in town). Keeping with a decades long tradition, they literally promote poverty as Spokane’s comparative advantage (see also the economic history items linked at the upper right of this page).

For decades, Spokane’s local income growth has lagged the rest of the state and the nation. Every year, Spokane residents fall further and further behind. In the GSI world of thinking, this is good!

GSI appears to be failing in its mission.

Sorry about that – I usually stick to the data.  But the overall economic data for Spokane says GSI has failed.

Another relationship between Spokane’s economy and the airport

This picture was taken from the Spokane Intern...

Image via Wikipedia

I have written a lot about the Spokane International Airport passenger data, number of airlines and the number of non-stop destinations.

The airport data represents a proxy that tells us something about the local economy. When the economy is booming, more people fly. When the economy is falling, fewer people fly. This is not complicated rocket science 🙂  The data tell us more about the local economy than it tells us about the airport. It’s a very nice airport.

I just scheduled a round trip flight to a conference I will attend later this spring. I was startled by the 30% “tax rate” of government taxes and fees. Yes, a staggering 30% set of taxes and fees on air travel.

Part of this is because the government imposes a $3.70 fee on each leg of the trip. To get to my destination from Spokane, I have to hop once, twice and then a third time to reach my destination at a major city (on the west coast). For each hop, there is a $3.70 fee.

Then we get to do this on the return flight. Those fees for having to make a multi-hop flight to get my destination and back add up!

Additionally, even though I do not need to be at my destination until early afternoon, I had to fly out the evening before, meaning an extra night for the trip (and associated costs), because I could not get there from here by leaving in the morning.

This is an added burden for any Spokane business that needs to travel to other than the non-stop destinations or at a time different than the few non-stops available. For businesses needing to travel a lot, this suggests locating in a major, large city served by more air services. This problem affects all smaller towns and cities in terms of serving a national or world market.