Spokane Journal of Business

Business education in Spokane creates future leaders

Schools attract talent vital to vibrant economy

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Access to a robust business education is vital to the development of our future business leaders, as well as keeping Spokane’s economy vibrant. Part and parcel to accomplishing this is attracting both key talent as well as new businesses.

In support of this, Eastern Washington, Gonzaga, and Whitworth universities all offer four-year undergraduate business programs, along with graduate programs, while Community Colleges of Spokane offers numerous two-year business skill development courses.

If the past is prologue, we are in the middle of a rapid transformation from a manufacturing to a service economy. Back in the ’70s and ’80s, Spokane-area colleges’ business program offerings tended to cater to a few large corporations here, helping their second and third-tier leaders punch their tickets for advancement. Today, however, with the complexity of business ever increasing along with so many technological changes, a college degree is required for many entry-level positions, notes Patricia Nemetz-Mills, a former professor of operations and strategic management at EWU.

Similarly, Todd Friends, associate professor of international business at Whitworth, also a former American Express and Pitney Bowes executive, notes that when he arrived here 25 years ago, we had a manufacturing hangover and had not gotten into services, but “today we are diverse, and we have a great depth of services.”

Much as our business environment continues to evolve, so do our education needs. Today, beyond offering numerous boutique courses designed to cater to every facet of our ever-changing environment, both EWU and Gonzaga hold the coveted Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International accreditation, with Whitworth recently joining them. This accreditation has long been considered the gold standard for business schools. The arduous process can take a school four to five years to reach its initial accreditation, which is then subject to a comprehensive review every five years.

Looking beyond accreditation, Nemetz-Mills says unlike many areas of study, leadership development is fundamental to the study of business. Leading others creates both a “task obligation” and a “relationship obligation,” she says.

So how does the business education process and develop leaders?

Task obligations are simulated by putting students in complicated situations, which imbue them with both the courage and confidence to figure out how to solve problems.

Relationship obligations teach how to behave in a professional manner as well as how to tap into the right motivations in others. This is often accomplished through complex team assignments thrusting the students into the unknown, having to depend on themselves and their teammates to get through it.

But this goes beyond simply instilling leadership skills to helping students know who they are. “You have to know who you are to be a good leader,” says Molly Pepper, professor of management and associate dean for undergraduate programs at Gonzaga. “We want students who bring their whole selves to the classroom. And I think we want to graduate students who bring their whole selves to work.”

Often during student orientations, she tells her students, rather than focus on getting ahead, “Look to yourself first. Now look to your left and right. These are your companions on the journey. Your job is to support each other on the hard days and celebrate together on the good days.” Fostering this self-awareness is fundamental to the development of leaders.

This is quite similar to Whitworth, where the “education of the mind and heart” are emphasized.

Friends says, besides learning to lead from the mind and heart, our students “are going to develop teaming skills.”

They are perceived as being able to “work very well with other people and through other people and are ready to go to work,” he adds.

In addition to developing top-notch leaders, our wide availability of quality business education attracts young adults to the area who might not have considered living here.

People who live here know what a great place Spokane is to live and work. Our motto, “Near Nature, Near Perfect,” now recast as “Creative by Nature,” says it all. But it’s one thing to have a catchy slogan and a whole other thing to convince young minds to move here when other midsize cities are offering them so much. Hence, we get an economic boost when students come here for either a four-year business or two-year MBA program, and then choose to call Spokane home.

“We import talent,” Friends claims. “You cannot believe the top talent. These folks would be rockstars at any corporation in America.”

Ashish Thatte, associate professor of operations and supply chain management at Gonzaga, says, “Business education (attracts) industries into the area” in addition to drawing young talent.

This is evidenced by Amazon.com Inc.’s recent ramp-up here through the building of two state-of-the art fulfillment centers, first a 2.6 million-square-foot facility on the West Plains and then a 1.6 million-square-foot center in Spokane Valley, jointly employing more than 3,000 people. This is not to mention the company’s recent announcement of the addition of a new Amazon Air facility at the Spokane International Airport, which is scheduled to employ 50 more people.

Also recognizing the breadth of our skilled workforce, in 2013, Caterpillar Logistics Services Inc. built a 562,000-square-foot distribution center out on the West Plains offering 140 good-paying jobs. It seems Spokane—once ridiculed by country singer, Tom T. Hall, who sang about being stuck in a motel here—has been discovered.

Besides honing the skills required to make great leaders, robust business education here attracts both young talent and the companies capable of offering them great opportunities. And now, with so much virtual work taking place, nothing stops someone here from making a virtual commute to one of the mega-business centers around the country. Thus, access to a robust business education is vital to the development of our future business leaders, as well as keeping Spokane’s economy vibrant.

William Ramshaw currently teaches business at Gonzaga University. Previously, he taught business both at Eastern Washington University and Whitworth University. He can be reached at wramshaw@comcast.net.

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