The city of Spokane is preparing to launch its own job recruiting initiative aimed at attracting West Side companies to bring highly paid professional and management-level jobs here.
The campaign, the first of its kind for the city, likely will start next month and run through next year, says Mayor David Condon.
As part of the city’s current two-year action plan, which includes a goal of raising the median household income, the campaign is funded through $450,000 allocated from 2017 sales tax revenue that came in higher than budgeted.
“We realize, in economic development, that goes quick, but it’s focused on the West Side, particularly the Interstate 5 corridor,” Condon says.
Condon cited published reports that professionals are flocking to the Seattle area, especially from the San Francisco Bay Area, which includes tech-rich Silicon Valley. They’re coming not just for employment opportunities, but for quality of life and a comparatively less expensive housing market, he says.
Spokane can compete strongly in that game, Condon asserts.
The positions the campaign will target include professional and management level accounting and finance, health care administration, and information technology jobs.
Those jobs are uniquely suited for cities, Condon asserts, pointing out that unlike Seattle, Spokane has no shortage of office space.
The spring 2018 office market report recently issued by Spokane commercial real estate brokerage NAI Black shows the central business district had an overall office vacancy rate of nearly 16 percent, a slight decrease from a year earlier.
“When we talk about IT, finance, and accounting, that’s the easiest to move,” Condon contends. “They all move into the urban core.”
The campaign will have a two-pronged approach, he says.
“One will look at younger professionals, probably sitting in that $85,000 to $110,000 job and thinking they should be living in the nice life in the Seattle and realizing they aren’t,” Condon says.
Secondly, the campaign will simultaneously seek out the fastest-growing West Side companies and work with “Spokane alumni” decision makers in those companies to persuade them to expand or grow here.
The effort will start as a digital campaign and include some targeted marketing, such as print promotions, later in the fall.
Council President Ben Stuckart says the campaign is targeting the I-5 corridor because, “We have a lot to offer that they do not anymore; more reasonable cost of living, easier access to nature, less traffic, lower construction costs, and lower median housing prices.”
The city is promoting the idea that companies that decide to move or grow offices here will see a reduction in turnover rate due to the quality of life here.
Inc. magazine, citing Linkedin Corp. data, reported in April that turnover at many of the Bay Area’s top 15 tech companies, including Google, Netflix, Twitter, Facebook, and Tesla, is three years or less, while Apple employees typically hang around for five years.
Another publication, GeekWire, also citing Linkedin data, reported last year that tech employee tenure in Seattle averages only six months longer than in San Francisco.
Condon says he was particularly encouraged about Spokane’s selling points when he asked a manager at the Spokane office of San Jose-based Egnyte Inc. why the company established and grew its presence here.
Austin Garner, Spokane-based director of accounts for the cloud-based file-sharing company, says in addition to Egnyte’s ability to pay above Spokane-market wages, Spokane’s attributes that help attract and retain employees include affordable real estate, lower traffic, and four universities that turn out qualified candidates.
“It’s a recipe for success,” Garner says.
Egnyte’s presence here has grown to 75 employees from four when it opened an office here in 2014. The company moved last year into larger space on the second and third floors of the three-story Luigi’s Building, at 245. W. Main, and Garner says he anticipates it will reach 95 employees by year-end.
“We do have a very strong retention rate here as far as employees go,” he says. “It’s more difficult to retain people in Silicon Valley.”
Garner says Egnyte employees come to Spokane from all over the country.
“We have a guy coming in next month from New Jersey—he’s an outdoorsy guy,” Garner says.
Among recent recruits, one is from Austin, Texas; one is from San Jose; and two are from Orange County, Calif.
“I have a bunch of local recruits … from Whitworth University, Washington State University, Eastern Washington University, and Gonzaga University,” Garner adds.
Engyte also leverages Linkedin recruiting data and occasionally uses a local recruiting agency, Garner says.
Condon says Dawn Kinder, the city’s own director of neighborhood and business services is a prime example of someone who moved here from Seattle to improve her quality of life.
Kinder says she’s among those who became disenfranchised with the Seattle scene.
She grew up in Spokane and left for a career in Seattle in the early 2000s. She returned to Spokane last year, along with her husband, a Seattle native.
“We realized there was no quality of life for us there,” Kinder says. “Housing was out of the affordability range. I was spending at least two hours a day to commute 24 miles round-trip.”
Her husband, a high school teacher, had no difficulty lining up work, starting as a substitute teacher in April 2017 and being hired full time in the fall.
Kinder says she and her husband only wish they would have moved here sooner.
“Just lack of traffic in Spokane changed my physical stress levels,” she says.
Kinder says she knows they’re not alone among West Siders looking for a higher quality, less stressful, more affordable life.
“We’ve had two friends move this summer for the exact same reasons,” she says. “I’ve heard just anecdotally of four or five other families making that journey. I think it’s happening at a rapid pace.”
The economic development team within Kinder’s division will lead the marketing campaign through the city’s public information office. It will start as a digital campaign and include some targeted marketing, such as print promotions, later in the fall, she says.
Condon says the city campaign won’t take away from economic development efforts by other entities such as Greater Spokane Inc. and public development authorities.
Their recruitment efforts are industry specific, he says, adding, “Ours is geographically focused.”
Adds Stuckart, “Now is the perfect time to recruit these companies to Spokane. There is a lot of workforce talent and businesses along the I-5 corridor that would benefit from moving to our community.”
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