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Economic Development 

by Ted S. McGregor Jr.

According to the KXLY/Inlander poll of May 2002, 85 percent of Spokane citizens said they would prefer funds be reallocated at City Hall so that more could be spent on programs to bring jobs to Spokane; when asked about reallocating for programs to help prevent poverty, 66 percent said more money should be found.

It looks like Mayor John Powers is at least attempting to address these priorities in his new office of economic development and through One Spokane. Other candidates are careful to agree with the goals while finding fault in Powers' methods.

"I think Powers has tried, but it hasn't worked," says Sheri Barnard. "I don't need One Spokane to focus on poverty. What I need is everybody working together."

State Sen. James West, who calls One Spokane a "big group hug," says, "Taking on poverty is a good social issue, but it's been around for thousands of years. The best solution to poverty is a job."

Chris Marr, chairman of the Spokane Area Chamber of Commerce and an attendee at the One Spokane summit, doesn't agree with the critics: "I'm not one to take shots at One Spokane. When we look back, it may represent a watershed event, as the culmination of economic development efforts. And John drew [the business community] into One Spokane. Could others have engaged the business community like that?"

City Councilman Steve Eugster doesn't offer any support for the effort, but does say that the criticisms are "a function of the Spokesman-Review pooh-poohing One Spokane. It's certainly a hell of a lot better than Momentum," a reference to a mid-1990s job creation effort led by the business community.

The leaders of One Spokane were criticized by some for holding a private reception for the summit's corporate sponsors, and the chocolate-covered strawberries served at that event were turned into shorthand for the mayor's political posturing by his critics.

"Powers took the No. 1 issue of poverty and window-dressed it," says Erik Skaggs, vice president of Metropolitan Mortgage.

For the record, Powers says less than $500 was spent on the private reception, none of it public money.

Powers believes it was a small price to pay to open the community's eyes to poverty, leading to a 130 percent increase in the city's human services budget (an increase Steve Corker says the council should get the credit for securing).

Powers also says the Spokane Alliance's Earned Income Tax Credit campaign was helped by One Spokane. In getting low-income citizens to file for the credit on their tax forms, Powers says $5 million was put into 3,800 low-income Spokane households.

And Project Access, modeled after a Kennedy School of Government project, was first brought up at One Spokane. Since then, Powers says more than 500 doctors have agreed to take in 10 patients free of charge, allowing more citizens to get health care. (Again, Corker says the council also deserves credit for Project Access.)

West says he doesn't care who gets credit for success stories, but he would make all city initiatives meet his litmus test: What impact would this have on job creation? "A lot of times," West says, "the city helping can be leaving [business] alone."

West says instead of an economic development coordinator, he'd favor a kind of city hall ombudsman who could help the citizens or businesses who need it.

"And if the EDC isn't doing its job, don't try to take it over," says West of the mayor's new office. "Fix it."

Corker sees a more efficient city government as a natural promoter of economic development. He would keep the economic development coordinator, although he would expand the functions of the office to include legislative affairs and community networking, ultimately cutting back the size and cost of the mayor's office. Corker also believes the EDC, which the city funds every year, needs new leadership.

"Job No. 1 is that the mayor's office has to play a role in stimulating job creation," says Tom Grant. "And we have to focus on who's here right now. Job creation will come from small businesses -- and that's under 500 employees."

Grant says revolving loan funds, like the one in place through SNEDA (which Corker helped to develop), could be an important tool in creating new jobs at existing businesses or at small startups.

Publication date: 08/14/03
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