Spokane Journal of Business

The Journal’s View: Community must follow up on report in order to thrive


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Greater Spokane Incorporated and scores of partners launched Thrive Spokane earlier this month, releasing the findings of a months-long effort to develop an economic development strategy for the region.

Lots of work has gone into this effort to understand the region’s strengths, opportunities, and challenges. Those involved deserve a round of applause for developing a foundation with this report.

But in reality, the work for us, both as a business community and a community at large, is just beginning. We must build up from the foundation created by the report if we’re going to maximize its potential. Our hope is those who came together to opine will stay and do the needed work.

That work will involve a lot of conversations about specific tactics needed to meet overall goals included in the study, as well as clarity of role pertaining to whom should lead each tactic—and metrics to track progress. In short, we must be accountable to ourselves and the community. 

Without that work, the fear is the process could lose focus in the coming months. Worst-case scenario, it becomes a well-intentioned report that gathers proverbial dust on a figurative shelf. Efforts already are underway to ensure that doesn’t happen, but where will those efforts be six months after the hired consultants move on to their next client? Or a year later? That’s our challenge.

The Thrive report stems from what’s known as a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy, funded by the U.S. Department of Commerce. GSI and its partners hired Austin, Texas-based TIP Strategies consulting firm to assist with the process.

Broadly speaking, the report outlines characteristics of the region that, at least on some level, we already were aware of. It paints the picture of a community that is benefiting from in-migration to a large degree, though not as dramatically as our neighbors in Kootenai County. It talks about a workforce that’s higher educated overall, but shows that a higher percentage of degreed individuals hasn’t translated into higher average pay for the region. And housing affordability has emerged as a challenge, a trend that recent data suggests has become even more pronounced than when researchers first looked at that dynamic.

The report goes on to emphasize the strength of the Spokane area’s health care sector and how it has surged during the past 20 years. Retail and education sectors have grown as well, though the pandemic has complicated some of those trends. Meantime, manufacturing employment has been up and down, with the long-term trend being a slight decrease. Office workers follow a similar, downward trajectory.

The report takes a deeper dive into those topics and many others. Overall, as one would expect, it tells the story of a community that is doing well, on many fronts, with areas to improve upon. Put another way, the region as a whole certainly isn’t in dire economic straits, as was the case during the Momentum economic-development era of the late 1980s and 1990s.

But it’s times like now that it’s important to improve upon the areas we can and continue to diversify our economy and opportunities for those in it. We’ll be better prepared to thrive, regardless of what the economy might bring our way.

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