Paul Read: Welcome to 2026...What a difference 10 years can make
-December 29th, 2016
Good morning. As I glanced at my watch today, a smile eased across my face. It’s Dec. 29, 2026. My retirement day. After all, I turned 65 a few months ago, and it’s clearly time for someone younger and smarter to lead the Journal of Business. Wow, the year 2026. Whodathunk I’d have lasted at this newspaper for more than 40 years.
As I rode the electric trolley this morning from my apartment downtown east to my office in the U District, I reminisced about how not long ago there was very little mid-market housing downtown. Just 10 years back, in 2016, the downtown housing market consisted mostly of higher-end condos and low-income apartments.
These days, a few thousand people, of all demographics and socioeconomics, call the core home. It seems to bustle 24/7, and there’s a new collection of businesses downtown now. Not just offices, banks, restaurants, and flashy retail. There now are grocery stores, a hardware store, and even a big home decor and crafts store. Ok, I could do without that last one.
As I crossed Division Street heading east, I was struck by how the neighborhood south of the railroad tracks has changed. The big new pedestrian bridge, now a geographic icon the likes of the Clock Tower or U.S. Pavilion, connects the densely developed Riverpoint campus with a strikingly modern neighborhood anchored by research facilities and dotted with condos and apartments. Green spaces snake through the vibrant new district, now sprinkled with new coffee shops and bistros that serve a workforce and residents drawn to a surging new economy fueled by lab-related science, medical informatics, and wearable technology.
I still remember the polite laughter heard when Spokane visionaries first talked of launching a medical school, or two, in Spokane, and those who offered skepticism of the spin-off effects that might bring. Who’s laughing now?
There’s my office. The Journal’s modest building at Third and Sherman plays the role of the comfortable thread of core institutions in a fabric now dominated by the exciting fibers of an emerging new sector.
During my trolley ride, I had a chance to read the economic outlook stories our newsroom had compiled for their year-end edition. The collection reminded me that innovation in the greater Spokane region certainly hadn’t been limited to the U District, or even to the world of health sciences.
Aerospace manufacturing, though here for years in less noticeable ways, today is more prominent. A spate of new hangars and production facilities have been constructed at or near Spokane International Airport, housing companies that supply or support Boeing, Airbus, and others. How did this happen? It’s twofold, observers told our reporters.
First, as costs skyrocketed in the exploding Puget Sound economy last decade, manufacturers were forced to look for communities where land and facilities are affordable, workforces are relatively more abundant, and those workers could afford a home and the time it takes to get to work. Second, the Spokane community finally recognized the need for a port district, and that district made possible some of the long-term infrastructure those manufacturers demanded. The jobs that came proved the port’s ROI.
It made me think, however, that while such traditional economic development was paying dividends, Spokane’s real success since 2016 came arguably by focusing more attention on startups, on the entrepreneurial ecosystem, if you will. What we found was that by ensuring we had capital, intellectual property expertise, and a culture of identifying and commercializing new discoveries from our budding research community, new companies most certainly would emerge. What we found was that by focusing on bringing smart people to town, other smart people would follow, and together, new enterprise was inevitable, given the tremendous lifestyle we have to offer here.
We also learned to protect that lifestyle. In a way, you could point back to the decision by voters to spend tens of millions of dollars to bring Riverfront Park back to its former glory, but it was much more than that. Eventually, we recognized that we no longer could rest on the laurels of the vision for parks the Olmsted brothers left us more than a century ago, and that we needed to apply our own vision for what that could be in the future, including smaller green spaces scattered in more places, and the political courage to fund them properly.
Similarly, the efforts we made both as municipalities and industries to use good science and practical expectations to protect our river have preserved that vital asset as a community advantage.
My trip to work this morning, however, has illuminated other strategic initiatives we have failed to meet so far. There are empirical signs that homelessness remains a problem, and in some ways has worsened as Spokane’s population has grown, these days at a crazy 2 percent annual pace, fueled by the promise of urban jobs to residents of increasingly struggling rural communities.
Still, we’ve made progress on others. Property crime has been declining for several years now, due mostly to a steady rise in per-capita income thanks to job creation that has leaned mostly to higher-paying occupations in the health sciences, manufacturing, and technology.
Further credit goes to the far-greater focus our community has placed on identifying and treating mental illnesses, as well as efforts to close an education gap that previously had funneled too many people onto unpromising paths. Calls to make our community more “compassionate” have paid dividends.
Politically, too, we have rediscovered pragmatism and respect. I chuckle at how the city councils of Spokane and Spokane Valley we saw back in 2016, each strident from a different end of the political spectrum, now seem to have found the middle, where measured progress lives.
Speaking of the Valley, a new downtown has emerged there as well, giving that proud city the core it has dreamed of for years. That is such good news.
As I think of the progress we’ve made in our region in the past 10 years, perhaps the thing I’m most impressed with is that we have managed not to lose the traits for which we are most known—a can-do attitude, friendliness, and a collaborative spirit. The great optimism I had a decade ago was well placed, and as I look ahead 10 years from now, to 2036, I do so knowing Spokane has the pieces in place to be even better.
It’s going to be a great day.