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Greater Spokane Inc. plan underscores flexibility

Thu., Sept. 16, 2010, midnight

The key to survival is adaptability, not strength or intelligence, outgoing Greater Spokane Inc. Chairman Tom Quigley told attendees at the organization’s annual meeting Wednesday.

He said keeping up with a changing economy, identifying the skills that will be needed, and building partnerships will assure Spokane is ready for what’s next.

Completing the north-south freeway and a four-year medical school are priorities, Quigley said, as are increasing jobs and attacking a high school dropout rate.

He said GSI will release a new strategic plan next month.

GSI President Rich Hadley said the economic development organization worked with companies that have added 424 jobs in the last year, and another 504 indirectly.

Keynote speaker Alaska Air Group Chairman William Ayer also stressed the importance of adaptation.

He said the company and subsidiaries Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air overcame the challenges posed by the post-9/11 collapse in travel by changing, and swiftly.

Instead of handing its problems to a Bankruptcy Court, he said, Alaska found ways internally to make painful cuts in employee pay and hours without sapping their commitment to customer service.

“We did the hard stuff ourselves,” he said, and the skills learned have instilled confidence in employees they can continue to change, a lesson unlearned by competitors who took an easier path.

As a result, Alaska has reported a string of profitable quarters topped by a record $84 million in the second quarter of this year, Ayer said.

He said managers must focus on a few goals, pursue them with a sense of urgency, and not worry about perfection.

Echoing Quigley, Ayers said partnerships are essential. Alaska, he said, has become the “Switzerland of airlines” by building many alliances.

“It’s all about making changes and sticking with them,” Ayer said.

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