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Porsches right on our back porch

Sun., July 9, 2006, midnight

As some drivers struggle to afford gas to keep their old Geo Metros running, a new Porsche dealership drove into the Northwest with autos costing $40,000 to $450,000.

George Gee Automotive Group in Liberty Lake recently added Porsche to its lineup. The high-performance brand hasn’t been represented in the area for about 17 years.

“We’re excited. We actually have a waiting list already,” said Ryan Gee, president of the family-owned dealership.

While some locals might wonder who the heck can afford these luxurious rides, Gee said the area is a promising market for the upscale German automaker. Porsche appeals to people making over $100,000 a year. A similar income demographic is targeted by Hummer, a brand that the Gees have successfully sold here since 2002.

“I think in Liberty Lake in general there’s a pretty significant population of people who meet that market,” Gee said.

The dealership, which includes a 12,000-square-foot building with showroom, is part of a national expansion for Porsche and is expected to draw customers from Idaho, Washington and Montana, Gee said.

When the Gees first contacted the German automaker about becoming an authorized dealer in 2002, Porsche said “no thanks.” Within a couple years, Porsche decided to increase its Northwest presence and also developed an SUV dubbed Cayenne.

George Gee representatives traveled to Atlanta and pitched the area – touting new developments, such as Liberty Lake’s Legacy Ridge, with homes starting at about $450,000, Coeur d’Alene’s Club at Black Rock and several upscale downtown Spokane condo projects. Porsche officials visited other dealerships before choosing George Gee.

The re-emergence of Porsche in some markets coincides with an upswing of American households with a net worth of $1 million or more.

Although the appearance of million-dollar condos and upscale auto dealers may be of little comfort to those fighting to pay their monthly bills, the sales taxes paid by this wealthy group could benefit the entire community, an economist said.

Grant Forsyth, associate economics professor at Eastern Washington University, said that if the people buying expensive cars and properties are full-time residents, they also need other goods and services. In the process, those affluent spenders could add a chunk of money to state and local tax coffers.

“I think there could be some long-term benefits to our tax base,” Forsyth said.

Because Washington lacks a state income tax, governments rely heavily on sales taxes. Forsyth said wealthier residents withstand recessions better than middle- and low-income consumers, who tend to cut back on non-essentials when times get tough.


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