By Gary Ballew
Vice President of Economic Development
Greater Spokane Incorporated
Many people ask me about Spokane’s economic future as we come out of the pandemic. While my crystal ball isn’t necessarily better than the next person’s, I probably get asked because of my work in economic development. Through that lens, there are several reasons I am optimistic about Spokane’s comeback after COVID. Here are my top five:
- Health services is a large part of our economy. Around 19% of our workforce is in the health care industry. On average, health care jobs pay well, and, as we are a regional hub for health care, bring dollars into our community from a large service area. While the pandemic has affected the delivery of health care, our aging population continues to drive expansion of this industry.
- We are primed for growth. Closely related to number one, when you combine the local health care industry with the region’s two medical schools (graduating more medical students than Puget Sound), we’ve already seeded important building blocks to a growing life sciences industry. A look around the region tells a great story, despite a pandemic: Jubilant HollisterStier announced an expansion at its facility in northeast Spokane. Construction of the Selkirk Pharma facility is well under way on the West Plains. Life science research dollars at WSU Spokane have more than tripled in the last nine years. And sp3nw, a regional start-up hub to launch life science companies, received a $750,000 grant to help companies respond to the pandemic.
- We have a massive talent pipeline. If you draw a 70-mile circle around Spokane, you will find over 77,000 students attending eight universities and four colleges. In Spokane County, there are 14 school districts, and the graduation rate is 85.5 percent, 2 points above the state average. Future economic growth will be based on talent, and the winners will be those communities that create, retain, and recruit talent. Big winners will be those that access hidden talent: the people struggling because they are disadvantaged or have other things keeping them out of the labor market.
- Our economy is diversified. We have a lot of small manufacturing firms that find new opportunities and propel innovation. Drive Trent from Spokane to Liberty Lake. Make sure you take a slight detour through the Spokane Business & Industrial Park. The number of businesses is staggering. There are also more high-growth technology companies, with Ignite supporting that sector.
- A lot of people in this community care about the economy. That is important. Many communities look at the economy as a gift from a benevolent deity, not something that you have to work and struggle for. My experience here is that there are a lot of people who are working really hard to improve the economy and the economic future for all here. They are each taking a little different approach, and that is okay. Economic development is a big tent.