Spokane Area gets a B in economics

The second Greater Spokane Incorporated report card on the area economy indicates progress on many of the business group’s 20 objectives but difficulty with two – income and health insurance – important to most members of the community.

Poverty and crime have decreased, but so has housing affordability.

GSI President Rich Hadley said the overall score might add up to a B, but where the community is headed is more important than where it was when the last snapshot was taken.

“It’s always going to be hard for us to show progress on everything,” he said.

Spokane Vitals, which compares the area’s economic health against that of 11 other cities, was launched last January when the Spokane Regional Chamber of Commerce and Spokane Area Economic Development Council merged to create GSI. Vitals was intended as to give the community and GSI members a way of judging the economic development group’s performance.

The first report established baselines in five categories: business growth, education, quality of life, prosperity for all and basic needs. The new Vitals looked at trends from 2003 to 2006, although a few statistics – notably crime – only go as far as 2005.

Robin Toth, who oversees collection of vitals for the GSI, said the organization could reassess the release date in order to include more current numbers. And a few indicators were changed, she noted, to better measure the information GSI wanted.

Last year, for example, the high school dropout rate was included, but only senior class defections were considered. That was replaced by the percentage of population with a high school diploma.

Spokane was notably strong in business growth, as measured by number of businesses and non-farm employment per 100,000 people, unemployment rate and patents. The area also outpaced its competition in progress on education, with higher percentages of the population holding high school displomas and undergraduate and graduate degrees.

But average annual wages increased only 5.6 percent, to $36,050, from 2003 to 2006, less than the average 7.6 percent gain for all 12 cities. The percent of the population with health insurance dropped 2.3 percent to 83.4 percent in 2006, while the percentage was unchanged for all communities.

The 11 comparison cities are: Reno, Nev.; Colorado Springs, Colo.; Albuquerque, N.M.; Tucson, Ariz.; Madison, Wis.; Raleigh, N.C.; Mobile, Ala.; Seattle; Portland; Boise; and Salt Lake City.

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