June 16, 2005 in Business

Students look around, come around to Spokane

Bert Caldwell The Spokesman-Review
 

Three Lewis and Clark High School students who set out earlier this year to find out more about Spokane discovered there was more to like than they thought. Their experience offers hope the community can hang on to the talent business demands, and may relocate to get.

Leslie Griffith, Ann Marie Kimmel and Steve Nicolaysen, as interns with Susanne Croft in the city’s Office of Economic Development, call their project “Bringing Life to Spokane,” or BLTS. They surveyed 243 LC students, did “windshield surveys” of four Spokane neighborhoods and looked at the qualities that make five other U.S. cities attractive to youth.

They saw many of those qualities in Spokane. Pride of place, for example, and a sense of small-town intimacy despite the city’s size. Most importantly, they identified the outdoor recreational opportunities at the heart of the quality-of-life mantra oft spoken by the community’s economic development officials.

“If you look around in Spokane, you find a lot of things to like,” says Griffith, who plans to attend Duke University in North Carolina this fall. Not only did she find Spokane more appealing as the trio did their research, she says, she also developed a new appreciation for how much planning goes into delivering the services that make a city attractive.

Not that Griffith did not see some gaps. There are not enough coffee shops where kids feel comfortable hanging out, she says, especially after dark.

“If you want to have cool community, don’t shut things down at 9 p.m.,” says Griffith, who adds she is more inclined to return to her hometown because of what she learned as an intern.

Griffith summarized the results of the survey for a Spokane Building Blocks forum last month. The survey was nearly the same one Eastern Washington University Professor Larry Davis used to survey college students about what goods and services they would like to find in the University District developing around the Riverpoint Campus.

Of the LC students who showed a preference between national and local stores and restaurants — most did not — local was the overwhelming choice. Fast food did remarkably poorly, ice cream parlors were the favorite. Few were into housewares or hardware. Music — duh! — was No. 1. And live music and movie videos were the entertainment choices, but parks and trails drew even more favorable responses.

“Manito Park is simply the coolest place in Spokane,” Griffith says.

Kimmel says the neighborhoods won her over. From the juxtaposition of skate park and antique shops in Hillyard, to Garland’s mix of architecture and businesses, to The Shop on South Perry, each had its charm, she says.

Even in the scattered vacancies on West Broadway she saw the makings of a youth center or Shop-like outdoor theater. She’s sharp enough to understand pending development of the Summit Property will benefit the whole West Central area.

Kimmel, who plans to attend Eastern Washington University in the fall, also hopes to continue working with Croft.

So, why is this important? Allow Nicolaysen to explain.

With the baby boomers nearing retirement, he says, communities will need fresh manpower to replace them. “If you want to keep youth in Spokane, you have to compete,” he says. And the more involved they are, the less likely they are to leave the community.

“If you win the people, corporations are likely to follow,” he says.

Besides its physical and geographic attributes, Nicolaysen says Spokane passes what he calls the “Orange Juice Test:” Will a 12-year-old sent out to find orange juice get the directions and other help he or she needs to complete the errand?

Croft, who has worked for several years with interns from LC teacher John Hagney’s senior practicums, says the research of Griffith, Kimmel and Nicolaysen will help city leaders shape new strategies for reviving neighborhood business districts, and retaining and attracting diverse, technologically savvy young adults.

“It’s not just about family-oriented activities,” she says. Some estimate those aged 18 to 28 start four out of five new businesses nationally. Many of the ideas that result in new business are germinated in all-ages cafes and other venues where that age group gathers.

“We need to create spaces,” Croft says.

Nicolaysen correctly observes that, no matter the community, young adults want to get away and explore. But if they get pulled into the loop and learn how to get things done, through internships, jobs, or school, they are more likely to stick around. It worked for the LC three.

“I doubt any of us thought we would be here in 10 years,” he says. “Now, we can see it.”

That’s good to hear.


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