Spokane Journal of Business

Colleges eye economic, public policy institute

Group has been formed to consider how it could be structured, financed

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Four Spokane-area colleges are studying the possibility of developing jointly an institute that would collect and analyze economic data for the Spokane area and use that data to provide research for and to advise leaders on public policy issues.

A committee of representatives from Eastern Washington University, Gonzaga University, Washington State University, and Whitworth College was formed last month to investigate how the institute could be structured and how it could be operated, says Stephen Jordan, president of EWU. The group also will be looking into ways to fund the endeavor, he says.

Theres a general need for deep academic and as-objective-as-possible analysis of economic issues here, says Gonzaga President Fr. Robert Spitzer. He adds that because Shaun OL. Higgins, The Spokesman-Reviews director of sales and marketing, has decided to limit his economic forecasting activities, It also would be good for someone to take his place.

Spitzer says he envisions an institute that could research a variety of issues. For example, it could look into the state of Spokanes technology infrastructure, how to boost tourism here, or what the economic forecast would be for the area given a particular scenario.

All four schools have agreed to consider the idea, although Jordan says that EWU and Gonzaga are really in the lead. Its my perception that the other institutions are interested, but they arent taking as active of a role.

Each school, depending on its individual mission, likely would have a different geographical focus when it came to collecting data. Jordan says that EWU likely would collect economic data for the Eastern Washington region, rather than just Spokane, while WSU might want to examine economic data for the entire state because of its statewide emphasis.

We havent come to an agreement on that, but we all feel that we have a special obligation to Spokane, Jordan says.

The committee is expected to report back to the colleges presidents at the end of this month, Spitzer says. The group likely will present three different models of how the institute could be structured and three different funding levels to support each model, he says.

It still is unclear how much funding would be needed to develop and operate the institute, Spitzer says. He says, though, that the greater the funding level, the more projects that the institute could undertake. He adds that the group hopes to receive grants from foundations both here and outside of the Spokane area to help launch the institute.

Some of us feel a special sense of urgency in developing the institute, Jordan says. He adds that both he and Spitzer believe that such an institute is a very important missing ingredient in the Spokane area and that they feel pretty strongly about its importance.

In other urban areas, universities play a lead role in economic forecasting and in providing direction for public policy issues, such as education, social work, urban planning, and transportation, Jordan says. Thats missing here, he contends. Jordan calls the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University, in Tempe, Ariz., a key example of a university that has played an important role in the economic development of a surrounding metropolitan area.

Jordan envisions the institute here consisting of principal players at each of the participating universities or colleges who would be based at their respective campuses, but would be able to do research collectively or discuss projects that would be brought before the institute. Students also would be involved in the institutes work, he says.

Spitzer says that the institute also would have to have a full-time director who would be responsible for securing funding for the institute and for overseeing the various projects.

  • Lisa Harrell

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