Symposium puts focus on plight of middle class

FRIDAY, MAY 2, 2014, 3:08 P.M.

Businessman sponsors income gap discussion

Spokane business owner Ron Reed is spending about $5,000 of his own money to give area residents a two-hour sit-down next week with the Northwest’s best-known advocate for helping save the middle class.

Reed, who for 25 years has operated software company PacifiCAD, is bringing to town Seattle author, entrepreneur and venture capitalist Nick Hanauer as keynote speaker at an economic symposium on Wednesday in downtown Spokane.

The Spokane Business & Economic Development Symposium, at the Davenport Hotel, will run from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., with registration costing $50.

Reed, 61, has read Hanauer’s two nonfiction books and found their central thesis worth repeating. Hanauer contends that the country needs long-term investment in and support for the middle class.

Like Hanauer, Reed calls himself “generally a progressive,” believing the country’s leaders need to boost middle-class family incomes and eliminate tax breaks for wealthier individuals.

Reed said he hopes others don’t view his symposium as political partisanship. He wants area residents and business managers and owners of all stripes to take part. If anything, Hanauer’s visit can be a catalyst for focused discussion, Reed said.

Finding ways to restore a diverse and successful economy goes beyond politics, Reed said.

“We really are trying to reach everybody with this event,” he added.

Reed argues that income inequality lies at the heart of the recent bankruptcy of Sandpoint apparel company Coldwater Creek.

“I consider that (bankruptcy) a direct result of the well-documented decline of our middle class, who was Coldwater Creek’s customer base,” he said.

He and others have data to back their concern. A recent study found a rising share of income growth in the country going to the top 1 percent of residents. It’s risen from 33.5 percent of all capital income in 1979 to 54 percent in 2010.

Proceeds of the Hanauer event will benefit Generation Alive, a local charity whose mission is to educate young people about how extreme poverty and injustice are affecting their generation around the globe.

This isn’t Reed’s first foray into economic activism.

Reed sponsored a Second Harvest fundraiser in January at the Bing Crosby Theater. That included a screening of the film “Inequality for All,” which features Hanauer as one of its central voices.

That fundraiser netted about $20,000, Reed said.

In 2006 Reed sponsored a three-day movie festival at the Bing Crosby Theater, showing “An Inconvenient Truth” and “Who Killed the Electric Car?” – two documentaries that argue the current political system creates more problems than it solves.

Despite running a busy firm with more than two dozen employees and three locations, Reed finds himself convinced that normal people cannot sit on the sidelines and hope the experts solve big problems.

“What I’m trying to do is use my resources and clout in the business community to change things, for all of us. I don’t think it’s dissimilar to what Nick Hanauer does on a much larger scale,” Reed said.

He won’t stop with just this symposium, he added.

“I want to do this type of thing on a regular basis,” Reed said. “I hadn’t really thought of it as a series as much as just my ongoing effort on behalf of my granddaughters’ future, my family, my friends and our community at large.”

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