With all the doom and gloom these past couple years, it was easy to downplay last month’s release of U.S. Census data. When the dollar seems to be shrinking, nobody pays attention to anything else. But we have confirmation: The Inland Northwest is growing.
The West continues to be one of the fastest-growing regions, including Washington (14 percent growth between 2000 and 2010) and Idaho (21 percent growth over that decade). Spokane and Kootenai counties are still growing, too. But soon that state line won’t mean as much, as experts say the Spokane- Coeur d’Alene Metropolitan Area will become a combined urban market within a year or two. At that point, Spokane will go from being somewhere around the 110th largest metro area in the nation to somewhere around No. 80, bigger even than Boise-Nampa.
Growth could increase as firms and individuals notice a new destination pop up on the top 100 cities list. Coupled with an improving economy (fingers crossed), we should get ready. Obviously we’re doing some things right, but here are some other areas we should focus on as growth continues:
CULTURAL IDENTITY This continues to be a mystery: Who are we, and why are we here? If you’re a sports fanatic, Spokane is the home of the Zags — and that has put us on the map. But we’re leaving a lot on the table. “Near Nature, Near Perfect” is a great slogan, but does the world really know how much natural paradise is at our doorstep? Local Native American tribes offer a deep connection to this place that we barely mention. Could a tribally funded Native American Cultural Center and the MAC combine to create something completely unique in the West? (There are many more threads to pull — agriculture, lakes, railroads, marmots, Bing Crosby.)
LOCAL GOVERNMENT Sometimes our leaders help our upswing, as with the Spokane Airport and the Spokane Arena; sometimes not so much. Across our many local jurisdictions, there’s too little agreement on shared priorities; some don’t even seem to want to be a city (Spokane Valley), others are getting ready for the future by gutting education (c’mon, Idaho!). We need more vision and leadership.
GET DOWN TO BUSINESS Local businesspeople are going out on a limb more than we’ve seen since Spokane’s mining heyday, and it’s exciting. We need it. We also need to continue to support the entrepreneurial spirit that leads to more good jobs outside of health care and government (although those create a solid foundation). People want to live in dynamic places; let’s be one of them.
Ted S. McGregor Jr. is the Editor and Publisher of The Inlander.