Downtown Spokane - Early 2015

The Tail That Wags the Dog

Spokane’s Economic Development Business —

Why does Spokane City Council pay the Downtown Spokane Partnership about $100,000 per year to manage another (roughly) $1,000,000 per year in downtown business assessments?

No, seriously, this is a poignant question: Why does the City pay an independent, private, third party entity to manage about $1,000,000 per year in public assessment revenue and, to boot, pay them another $100,000 for the pleasure of doing it?

DSP may have fooled us once, but Greater Spokane, Inc. (GSI) has fooled us twice. Why do we pay GSI about $130,000 per year to “speak for the city” in matters of economic development? Aside from testifying at just about every City Council meeting to complain about one policy or another, what are we paying GSI to do? Attract more call centers, perhaps?

You remember that call center they attracted to Liberty Lake a couple years back? It folded. It was called Vivint.

GSI helped Vivint obtain the $150,000 grant to help cover some of Vivint’s cost of locating workers in Liberty Lake.

“That’s one of the few economic development tools we have in this state,” said Robin Toth, business development director for GSI.

The Spokesman Review

Why is the City of Spokane paying GSI to locate failed call centers to the City of Liberty Lake? For my part, I don’t think I want GSI to attract anymore call centers to our city, much less pay them to attract call centers to a different one. Toward that end, who can we pay to get metro Spokane out of the call center business? Now that would be some quality economic development!

Spokane’s economic development delivery system is not healthy. It does not conform to industry best practices. Sadly, it does not even conform to industry average practices. The system has been privatized. Local non-profits control it. The people that sit on these boards do so to advance their own best interests, not the city’s. Yet, we pay them to manage public money.


Spokane’s Economic Development Delivery System

Spokane's Economic Development Delivery System
If you want influence over the future of the metro, you got to pay to play, baby. To sit on one of these boards, you need to be a member and a regular “sponsor.”


The Downtown Spokane Partnership rakes in about $1.1 million in tax and assessment revenue from the City of Spokane. Additionally, they fundraise another (roughly) $300,000 from the local business community. Thus, (and here comes the kicker) about 27% of private money controls the other 73% of public money. Interesting, huh? Now multiply it by three – GSI, DSP, and Visit Spokane – economic development, downtown development, and tourism, respectfully. The pillars of Spokane’s economic development strategy, and they are all private entities represented by all the same people (i.e., all their board members rotate from board to board). It’s one big merry-go-round — the same stale ideas just circulating in a closed loop.

Hence, the reason why Spokane has such a hard time taking steps into the 21st century is because our economic development delivery system does not cultivate innovation. It does not breed new ideas, it chastises them; and it does not represent the interests of the majority, it simply represents the interests of those that can afford to pay.

Why are we funneling all this public money to those that preserve the status quo? Who are the metro’s innovators? Let’s start paying them.