GSI And The Art Of Illusion —
I’m 37. I spent the first 18 years of my life trying to get out of Spokane and the next 18 trying to get back in. This town has a tendency to do that to people. Now, when I look around, I see a large group of us, back home, all hungry for change, and eager to transform Spokane into a 21st century city.
But you don’t need to be born and raised to see Spokane’s largely squandered potential. Newcomers can see it, too, and they tend to be all the more confused as to why Spokane has yet to realize it — mostly because the fixes are so obvious.
We all work toward changing the city, in our own special ways. Of course, change is a tough business, as we’ve all discovered. For every action, there’s a reaction. A counterbalance to change. Forces that wish to maintain the status quo. Gatekeepers.
And so it passes that Spokane County Commissioner Todd Mielke is the new President and CEO of Greater Spokane, Inc. – the metro’s chief gatekeeper. Where once there was hope for change, that perhaps someone versed in 21st century economic development strategies may be selected for the position, was but a childish dream for those of us under the age of 50.
It’s because GSI isn’t in the change business. Nope, GSI is in the status quo business. Of course, they would have you believe otherwise:
Since 2010, GSI has assisted 52 companies in either expanding locally or relocating to our community. These companies have created 4,374 jobs, over $1.1 billion in annual economic impact to our community, and have resulted in over $282 million in capital investment.
from GSI’s website.
GSI’s authority is a mirage — an illusion conjured by old Spokane whereby asking other people for money somehow equates to accomplishing economic development objectives. It’s the best magic act in town.
I’m curious, what does “assisted 52 companies” mean? Did you make a few phone calls? Or perhaps set up a couple of meetings? Did you form a committee? Did you ask the State Department of Commerce for money to offset the cost of public improvements?
I don’t know what school of economic development you graduated from, but the school that I graduated from dictates that everything really just boils down to who cuts the check, and who approves the project – the two most significant components to accomplish economic development (however you might define it) and they are exactly the two things GSI can’t do.
In fact, GSI does the exact opposite. They ask for the check, and they ask someone else to approve the project. But first, of course, is a proper vetting process to ensure the newcomer (or proposed local policy) doesn’t compete with anyone’s best interest. Ladies and gentlemen, that’s not economic development, it’s just an old-guard non-profit going around and bullying everybody.
Many local municipalities, including the cities of Spokane and Spokane Valley, make annual contributions to GSI, which makes me wonder: what is the return on that investment? What does GSI do that couldn’t be done in-house or farmed out to a local public development authority? After all, why pay GSI to advocate against proposed policies when it’s a service they already provide for free?
GSI is correct in one regard, there is no better person to preserve the status quo than a career lobbyist and politician. I imagine Todd Mielke is a great guy, and I don’t doubt his quality because you don’t get to be a career lobbyist/politician without having kick-ass communication skills. It’s in the best interest of GSI to hire a good talker as opposed to someone with core economic development competencies because they have a masquerade to perpetuate – the illusion that GSI is actually an economic development agency, the illusion that they actually have a gate to keep.
Cover Photo: Todd Mielke, from Spokane County’s website.