Ever wonder why Greater Spokane, Inc., and the Downtown Spokane Partnership hired former county commissioners to run their respective shops? It’s because core knowledge, skills, and experience within the realm of economic development matters little. Nope, in the Spokane game, it’s advocacy, lobbying, and fundraising that count most. (The funny part is they call it “economic development.”)
Economic development isn’t an exercise in philanthropy; it’s market-driven. I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it: fundraising, grant writing, and generally asking other people for money is not an economic development strategy; on the contrary, it’s what you do when you don’t have an economic development strategy. But it’s this model of membership drives, sponsorships, and just generally asking other people for money that enables a pay-to-play atmosphere whereby, under the guise of economic development, Spokane’s old guard has an inordinate amount of influence about what the future of our city looks like.
Trouble is the old guard isn’t looking toward the future; they’re looking backwards at the past. For Spokane to transition into a true 21st-century city, step one is to dispel the notion that private non-profits, whose business models are built largely on charity, is the appropriate economic development tool to get us there. Step two includes rebuilding the model in a manner that establishes transparency and an arm’s-length relationship with Spokane’s business elite.
Have no fear; it ain’t hard. But it will take a bit of courage. Here are the action steps to make the magic happen:
Stop Making Municipal Payments to GSI
Why the City of Spokane (and pretty much every other city in the metro) pays GSI to complain at City Council meetings is a mystery. Seems to me that it’s a service GSI will provide for free. Also, take note: GSI’s present contract with the City of Spokane expires at the end of June. What a great opportunity to save $92,440 (the contract amount), and redirect it into real (market-driven) economic development.
Stop Inviting GSI to Sit on Local Committees
GSI brings no value-added to the table, no tools, no resources (money), just old guard opinions. Because they are simply a non-profit, they have just as much of an argument to sit at the table as every other non-profit in the metro. Cut GSI out of the information loop. The only thing you have to lose is all the irrational drama that comes with them.
Stop Making Municipal Payments to DSP
Why the City of Spokane pays DSP $100,000 per year to manage another (roughly) $1,000,000 in tax money is a mystery. Again, I suspect it is a service DSP will happily provide for free. Between the stop-payments of GSI and DSP, the City just opened up $192,440 to redirect toward market-driven economic development initiatives. (In case you’re wondering, here’s how all the money flows in name of economic development.)
Transition DSP into a Public Development Authority (PDA)
This will get them out of the charity business, establishes City Council as the oversight entity that appoints board members (as opposed to the good ol’ boy circle appointing board members), and will cast a bright ray of public sunlight on all decision-making processes and budgets. To sweeten the deal, give DSP another market-driven $4-million dollars per year to conduct economic development activities.
Make no mistake, GSI is an impotent economic development mechanism. However, there is certainly room in the market for a chamber of commerce – we just need to stop giving them money and calling it “economic development.” The road to the 21st-century does not travel through Greater Spokane, Inc.
As for DSP, a business improvement district (presently managed under the guise of DSP) is a relevant economic development tool with market-driven substance. However, we must also create an arm’s length separation between the management of public assessment revenue and the city’s good ol’ boy culture.