June 29, 2011 in Opinion

Editorial: Many hands expedited Caterpillar’s Spokane pick

 

Spokane had to move fast to catch a Caterpillar.

With a $37 million distribution center and up to 150 jobs at stake, local business and government officials had only weeks to meet the requirements of an unknown prospect.

Robin Toth, vice president for business development at Greater Spokane Incorporated, says site selection specialist Colliers International called its search “Project Swift,” and meant it.

Normally, courting a company considering a relocation or expansion takes months, sometimes more than a year. Colliers approached Greater Spokane in March.

The heavy lifting began immediately.

An existing tax increment financing district with a $62,000 balance to help pay for road or other improvements gave the site a head start. City water and sewer lines are already in place.

Neighbor Inland Power and Light Co., along with Avista Utilities and Time-Warner Telecom assured the utility infrastructure would be there.

The Washington Department of Transportation looked at the additional trips trucks would make over the Medical Lake interchange, which has become the West Plains trucking hub. No problem.

Although Washington can offer few incentives, Gov. Chris Gregoire set aside $100,000 in discretionary Workforce Investment Act funds for worker training. Spokane Falls Community College already offers a two-term transportation and logistics course. Mark Mattke, executive director of the Spokane-area Workforce Development Council, says he is already working with Caterpillar on customized courses that will prepare program graduates for positions at the new warehouse.

Gregoire’s contribution, by the way, was the second for Spokane in just three weeks. The governor also came up with money to train workers for Pyrotek, which is repatriating manufacturing jobs now in Mexico.

Meanwhile, Spokane County and Spokane International Airport officials expedited a critical change in maximum building heights to give Caterpillar enough headroom without compromising approaches to the airport. Fairchild Air Force Base officials also signed off. Details like filing the center’s coordinates with the Federal Aviation Administration had to be nailed down.

Although connecting Caterpillar’s decision and newly enacted business-friendly changes to Washington’s unemployment and worker’s compensation would be easy, Greater Spokane officials say the legislation was not a factor. Hustle certainly was.

Caterpillar is a catch, and not just for the jobs it will create during construction and operation of the center, and potential future expansion.

A big new building with a Caterpillar logo visible from Interstate 90 is an affirmation of the business climate in Spokane County and Washington from a Fortune 100 company. Toth says she received inquiries from two other site selectors as soon as the Caterpillar announcement was announced.

If the cooperation and coordination demonstrated by this effort is adopted as a new best-practices model for future economic development efforts, there will be more Cats in the bag.


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