GSI and the Art of Insanity —
I’ve said this all before. There’s a half dozen different SpokanePlanner posts from almost a half-dozen span of years about how to do this right. The recipe to the secret sauce is already published. The genie is out of the bottle. Jack is out of the box. But old Spokane insists on repeating the same mistakes yet expecting different outcomes.
Your actions fatigue me, Greater Spokane, Inc. (GSI). I’m not sure if I feel abused or if I enjoy the masochism. Alas, you are, without question, my muse. Thank you, by the way, for shooting me to the top of Google for a variety of keyword phrases. If one thing you do well, GSI, is provide great content. Thus, it could be said GSI is SpokanePlanner.
Cue the bugle. Cue Taps, because so passes Robin Toth from Spokane’s political elite.
Where once GSI enjoyed the unchallenged perception that they are the only economic development game in town, today that perception has been molested by several significant facts that have all diminished GSI’s ability to even call themselves an economic development organization.
At the risk of being redundant, once again, here’s a quick summary of those facts:
- GSI has no tools. I.e., they can’t close an economic development deal. (See: The Incentives GSI Can’t Give You.) For example, word on the street is Todd Mielke made no small effort to sit at the table during the “Project Rose” conversation but, because GSI has no tools, GSI was not invited to help close the deal. Thus, if you add no value, if you have no tools, you don’t get a seat at the table. A + B = C. GSI has no tools. GSI has no value. GSI has no seat at the table.
- GSI has no authority. They can’t make policies. They can’t levy taxes. They don’t create or administer zoning and land use process, and they can’t execute a real-deal economic development transaction, be it closing financing, tax credits, providing public improvements, or skidding the zoning wheels – they are simply a garden variety 501 corporation (nonprofit). Thus, just because you call yourself an economic development organization, don’t make it so. (See: The Best Magic Act in Town.)
- GSI is reliant on charity. Relying on grants, fundraising, and state appropriations is the antithesis of economic development. There’s better ways to go about getting results that don’t rely on panhandling. (See: 10 Reasons to Drop Your GSI Membership.)
- GSI is pay to play. The general purpose of GSI isn’t to improve the greater good of metro Spokane; the purpose of GSI is to give the business community a tool to vet proposed economic development projects and decide whether or not the competition jeopardizes their individual best interests; and with another round of sponsorships and diamond membership renewals, GSI will take the position that best protects its largest donors, despite the greater good. (See: The Fallacies Money Can Buy, or The Tail That Wags the Dog, or Streets, Good Ol’ Boys, and Bureaucrats.)
- When all you have is an ADO designation, you really don’t have much at all. Associate development organizations (ADOs) are an arbitrary bureaucracy established within the Revised Code of Washington that stipulates local designation of ADOs to filter economic development proposals through. Within Spokane County, GSI is our arbitrary filter on the market. (See: Time to Repeal Washington’s ADO Laws.)
GSI is painfully aware they are no longer considered a key cog in metro Spokane’s economic development environment. So much so, they have hired a ringer, of sorts, in another vain attempt to cure what ails them.
Word on the street is Avista made a direct contribution to GSI of about $400k in order to secure Marty Dickinson’s services. Given the answers are already in plain sight, I’d say Avista just wasted $400k. Not only that, but the system that Avista is trying to fix is precisely the one they’re enabling, which doesn’t speak well about Avista’s sophistication on the subject matter.
Redundant, once again. It’s baffling that Spokane’s business elite places so much value in untrained laymen that are nothing more than hustlers. Yet it appears that Spokane’s business elite are easy to hustle. Hiring laymen to tinker at the margins and make you feel good while they do it won’t get GSI any further then they are today. And, today, GSI is meaningless (from an economic development perspective). Thus, the insecurity GSI feels that motivated them to expend Avista’s money on overpriced talent is well placed because GSI has plenty of reasons to feel insecure.
Redundant, once again. What we need, what GSI needs, is systemic change. So, in six or eight or ten months when Marty recommends changes to GSI and takes credit for everyone else’s ideas, pat her on the back, thank her, and vote to approve ‘em.
Here’s $400k worth of advice for Marty:
- There’s room for cutting edge creativity – you just have to be brave enough to pursue it. Any garden variety 501 corporation can call themselves economic developers, including GSI. If you want to do something special, if you want to put yourself on the map, strive for the cutting edge by inventing something new that adds value to the whole enchilada. Be the organization academics write about (in a good way). Be the organization news channels call for an expert opinion. Traverse where there are no maps. Explore the ragged edge. If you’re looking for new, if you’re looking for special, the dark unexplored void that lies beyond is the only place to find it.
- Make distinctions between the sizzle and the steak. Stop paying untrained laymen to give you advice about how to do economic development. Todd Mielke is a career politician; Marty Dickinson is a marketing professional; they’re both great communicators but communication skills don’t equate to expertise in the field. If you want economic development, hire economic developers (and then accept their hard truths).
- Create a port district. If you’re looking for some beef, port districts abide. Happily, if a port district is created within Spokane County, GSI no longer has a reason to even call themselves an economic development entity and they can go back to simply calling themselves a chamber of commerce.
- Separate the chamber of commerce function from the economic development function. Rich Hadley’s experiment (and power grab) is a colossal failure. The best interests of the chamber of commerce do not always align with the economic best interests of the region. Separate the two functions by creating a new legal entity for one or the other.
- Stop wasting city and county tax money. Either you’re acting in the public interest or you’re acting in your membership’s interest. If you’re goal is credibility… pick one.
- Stop conflating charity with economic development. Hint: if your budget relies on asking other people for money in the form of grants, donations, membership dues, and sponsorships, you’re not in the economic development business.
- It’s all about tools. That is, GSI doesn’t have any. However, being a 501 corporation doesn’t preclude you from acquiring some. For instance, you could become a community development financial institution (CDFI), you could go after an allocation of New Market Tax Credits from the US Treasury, you could establish an Opportunity Zone Fund, you could do any number of things that create value from an economic development perspective. Alas, if you haven’t done it by now, we’re not holding our breath.
By the by, how long before Todd gets canned and Marty takes over the operation? The over/under is one year. I’m taking bets.
I sure do hope this is the last post I write on GSI. Then again, maybe I don’t.
Thanks for the content.
Cover photo taken from WSU Insider.