Quintrall: BBB, Forbes don’t see eye to eye about Spokane

The lists compiled by Forbes magazine often seem to cast Spokane in a bad light. We were previously painted as a scam capital, and now we rank at the bottom for job growth. Swell. But the BBB perspective is a bit different.

Scam capital?

Serving three states with distinctly different regulatory climates gives the BBB a unique view. Yes, the Inland Northwest has its share of big, ugly scams. The recent Little Loan Shoppe issue, the Randocks diploma mill and the Railway Crossings salvage scam all garnered national attention. And yes, we have been known to jump on the pyramid scheme bandwagon in a big way. But are we really worse off than other cities? I’m not so sure.

I know there are some random and widespread scams in Montana, many involving non-legitimate companies simply pretending to be there. And it’s an easy place to hide. In addition, we have seen shady business people flee Washington state for Idaho or Montana because the consumer protection focus in the other two states in substantially less.

Another consideration is whether Spokane scams are affecting Spokanites. Frankly, the offices of elected officials have an innate incentive to prioritize prosecuting the bad actors who victimize their voters. So if con artists are operating in Washington but their victims are from other states, they may get away with the scam for longer than if they were ripping off their neighbors. Trust me, scammers know that.

What else makes us attractive to con artists? All three states served by this BBB share a mystique that makes us unique: We are in the West where people are seen to be naturally trusting (or gullible). The perception is that we come from “honest pioneer stock” — after all, there are people in the East who think we all still ride horses and cook over wood.

Plus, many of us have a live-and-let-live mentality that can come back and bite us, especially when it comes to scammers. Turning a blind eye to a neighbor or competitor whom you know is involved in illegal or unethical activities is easier, but makes it easier for scammers, too.

A final issue that could skew the statistics is that out here, our ponds are small. A diploma mill or bad payday lender in Los Angeles, New York or Houston is not going to attract the attention they do in Spokane or Missoula.

Lack of job growth?

Nope, Boeing is not going to open a huge manufacturing plant in Spokane. General Motors will not be sketching out a new assembly facility in Post Falls anytime soon. And the headlines we see and the reports we hear center on big layoffs at Itron or Telect. But that is such a small part of what makes up the job pool in our area. You can count the large (over 200-person) employers on several sets of hands, but the small businesses? They are everywhere, and that is what makes up Spokane’s job growth.

How many headlines have you seen about a small company increasing its workforce by 20 percent when they add two employees to their existing staff of eight? Zero. Did the media rush to interview the BBB as we tripled our workforce over the last 10 years? Nope. And now that businesses are adding back staff one or three at a time, do they call a news conference or make a big public announcement? Of course not.

Measuring the growth of 12,000 small businesses is difficult. When we lay off two or three people we do not need to let anyone know, and when we hire them back it does not make news. But if you look around at the new retail stores, used car lots, restaurants and start-up businesses, you will see that the news is not as bad as it is painted. Can we attract large employers to this area? You bet. But they will be far fewer in number than the people hired by small businesses in the Inland Northwest.

Ah, list-makers. It isn’t only when I see lists of best places to retire, live or relocate, and Spokane isn’t on them, that I wonder what the list-makers were thinking. But if everyone sought the same lifestyle, climate and surroundings, we’d all live in a very crowded place.

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