Spokane Journal of Business

Spokane holds own compared with peers

GSI's Spokane Vitals report shows progress on some measures, more to do on others

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Spokane has held its own compared with peer metropolitan areas when it comes to criteria that measure such things as business growth, education, prosperity, quality of life, and basic needs, a new report issued by Greater Spokane Incorporated shows.

Among 20 criteria the GSI uses in its annual Spokane Vitals report, Spokane fared better than average among a group of 12 metropolitan areas on 10 economic indicators and worse on 10, the report shows. The report compares Spokane with three other Northwest metro areas, including the Seattle area, the Portland area, and the Boise area, as well as eight other U.S. metros. They are: Raleigh-Cary, N.C.; Madison, Wis.; Tucson, Ariz.; Reno-Sparks, Nev.; Colorado Springs, Colo.; Salt Lake City; Albuquerque, N.M; and Mobile, Ala.

Among the data in the report, Spokane has fewer jobs per 100,000 residents than the overall peer group, but its growth in jobs in recent years has outpaced the group. Meanwhile, the poverty rate has fallen far more dramatically here than in the other metro areas, but remained higher than the others as of 2008. Also, the housing affordability index worsened here in recent years, while the average of the other markets improved slightly. Of note amidst the health-care debate, the Spokane area had the best percentage of residents with health-care insurance among its peers.

"You would hope that it (the report) would show that some progress is being made," says Robin Toth, GSI's director of business development and manager of the Spokane Vitals project. "We can try to effect some of those changes, such as business establishments and jobs."

Still, Toth says, "When you compare yourselves with other communities, there will be some bad news in there, and that's the risk you take. When you look over time, it looks more positive."

GSI published its first Spokane Vitals report in early 2007, and has been updating it annually since. Its fourth edition was published earlier this month. Following are some of its findings:

Between 2003 and 2007, the number of business establishments per 100,000 population here grew 3.2 percent, compared with an average of 2.5 percent growth among all 12 metro areas.

In terms of jobs, total nonfarm employment per 100,000 population here grew 2.5 percent between 2004 and 2008, while the average growth of the peers was zero. Spokane had 47,247 jobs per 100,000 population in 2008, fewer than the 49,121 average of the overall peer group.

While Spokane's average unemployment rate in 2009, at 8.9 percent, was higher than the 8.5 percent average of the comparable metros, the rate here grew much slower between 2005 and 2009 than it did for the metro areas as a group.

Spokane doesn't compare as favorably on patent filings. In 2008, the Spokane area had 12.5 utility (invention) patent filings per 100,000 people, far lower than the 52.2 patents per 100,000 population average among its peers.

As for education, the Spokane area's percentage of residents age 25 and older who have a high school diploma was 92.4 percent in 2008, second only in the comparison to the 94 percent rate shown for Madison, Wis. Also, between 2004 and 2008, the rate of increase on that measure here was 2.1 percent, compared with 1.2 percent among its peers. Only 27 percent of Spokane-area residents age 25 and older, however, held a bachelor's degree in 2008, compared with 31 percent for the metro group.

Meanwhile, in the 2007-2008 school year, Spokane Public Schools had a student-to-teacher ratio of 17.2, roughly the same as the average of its peers. The Spokane district's ratio fell 5.5 percent between 2004 and 2008, while the average of the largest districts in the comparable metros edged up by 0.1 percent.

Under the prosperity category, the Spokane area falls short in income level comparisons, but it has made up significant ground in recent years. While the average annual wage here, at $39,510 in 2008, was less than the average $41,346 of its peers, the number here grew 14.2 percent between 2004 and 2008, compared with 12.8 percent average growth among the group of metros.

Per-capita personal income here grew 16.8 percent between 2004 and 2008, about the same as the average among the comparable metro areas. Still, at $32,769 in 2008, Spokane's per-capita income is well below that of the $38,025 average among those peers.

Under the quality of life heading, the Spokane area's composite index for cost of living was 93.8 in the third quarter of 2009, compared with a 101.1 average for comparable metros (a lower number means lower cost). Also, Spokane's crime rate fell nearly 36 percent between 2004 and 2008, compared with a 16.5 percent drop among comparable metros, though in 2008, its crime rate was still higher than the average.

The average travel time to work here is somewhat less, at 21.5 minutes versus the average of 23.4 minutes for the metro group, but travel times here have increased at a faster rate in the past five years than the average among the peers.

Under the basic needs heading, Spokane's child poverty rate fell 28.4 percent between 2004 and 2008, compared with an average drop of 10.3 percent among its peers. The rate here in 2008 was 16.1 percent, which also is the average among the metro areas. The overall poverty rate here also fell more dramatically than did the average during that period, 20.3 percent versus the average 7.0 percent drop. At 13.7 percent, though, the poverty rate here remains higher than the average of the peers, which stood at 12.3 percent in 2008.

Also, 88.6 percent of the Spokane-area population had health insurance in 2008, compared with 84.5 percent among comparable metros. The percentage here grew 3.9 percent in the past five years, compared with 1.2 percent growth among comparable metros. Spokane also beats the statewide average.

Spokane's housing affordability index worsened between 2004 and 2008. In this measure, a lower index is better, and Spokane's grew 17.6 percent during that time to 4.0 in 2008. The average among comparables in 2008 was 3.9, and the average change in that period was a decrease of 0.5 percent.

  • Paul Read

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