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Thursday, May 28, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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The Great Divide Is West The Best? Economically, Culturally And Politically, Spokane Fails To Wield The Clout Of Its Fast-Paced Western Cousin

By Lynda V. Mapes Staff writer

FOR THE RECORD (July 29, 1997): Kaiser investments: Kaiser Aluminum Corp. spent a total of $102 million renovating its Trentwood and Mead factories. A special report Sunday examining the differences between Seattle and Spokane mentioned work only at the Trentwood plant. A photo caption also misidentified the location of a new carbon bake furnace. It’s at the Mead smelter.

When voters were asked if they wanted to spend $327 million in public money for a new football stadium in Seattle, Eastern Washington answered with a thundering no.

Nineteen of 20 counties east of the Cascades rejected the sports and exhibition complex last month, sometimes by more than 70 percent.

It didn’t matter.

With three-fourths of state voters living west of the mountains, East Siders often find themselves merely along for the ride. A 1991 abortion rights initiative showed similarly lopsided support, with every Eastern Washington county but one forced to live with a decision made on the West Side.

Now another Seattle notion looms, in an initiative likely to make the November ballot. It would require every handgun owner to pass a safety test and buy a trigger lock for their firearm, an idea sure to be anathema east of the Cascades.

Sometimes, East and West Siders seem like strangers to each other.

By now it is widely taken for granted that the West Side makes news for presidential visits and international business conferences, while the East Side gets ink for militia groups, right wing bombings, and, as it turns out, having terrain that looks a lot like Mars.

That’s probably no surprise to many folks in Seattle, for whom the East Side is about as remote and alien as the Red Planet.

Election results are just one measure of the differences sliced by the mountains - an index of chilly relations, with anti-Seattle sentiment growing along with the West Side economy, crime rate, traffic and population.

When asked in a statewide poll if they would raise their kids in the Seattle-Tacoma area, 79 percent of East Siders said forget it. They rated their own quality of life higher, even though they said they make the same or less money and believe most state dollars are showered in the same place as most of the rain.

The two sides of the state face each other across a great political, economic and cultural divide.

In Spokane, the streets are crumbling but city leaders are struggling to find money to fix them. People fought so long and hard over a proposed Pacific Science Center at Riverfront Park, it never got built. Downtown buildings remain empty as people argue over the best way to revitalize the city’s core.

In Seattle, residents are taxing themselves $100 per household per year on average to help pay for a nearly $4 billion transit system to handle booming economic growth.

Another $840 million is being spent on new stadiums for the Mariners and the Seahawks just south of downtown. And a renaissance is under way in the arts, with two major gallery expansions just opened and a $109 million symphony hall under construction.

There is a downside to this prosperity. Seattle’s estimated 536,600 residents cope with crime, traffic snarls and home prices that are unheard of east of the mountains.

Some favorite outdoor retreats are so crowded West Side hikers have to fight for a parking space at the trailhead. At Tiger Mountain near Issaquah, cars stack bumper to bumper near Interstate 90 as West Siders seek a little open space.

Miss a turn on Seattle’s busy streets and it’s a giant hassle.

Spokane is a forgiving place, the land of the slow, wide u-turn, executed with delicious impunity. People drive right up to the curb at the airport and think nothing of this modern miracle. They plant gardens big enough to get them in trouble in generous, sunny back yards.

But this laid-back lifestyle comes at a price, too: Many people can’t make a decent living for their families. Compared to the Seattle area, the poverty rate is higher, wages are lower, job growth slower and public spending lags.

When an independent consultant studied the Spokane economy two years ago, researchers found 45 percent of the workforce employed in retail and service jobs, making less than $14,000 year on average.

The Pace Group also noted that while Seattle has been at the top of the places-rated listings year in and year out, Spokane dropped from 70th place out of 300 to 232nd in just five years. This year Spokane ranks even lower at 257.

The report warned Spokane is a second-tier city on the slide. Some say it’s become a naysaying town that sells itself short and works cheap.

Spokane workers have less spending money after taking care of the essentials than almost anywhere else in America, according to a May 1996 survey of cities around the country by Regional Financial Associates, Inc., a Philadelphia consulting firm.

“When the basic economy is as fragile as it is for a large proportion of the population, they are unwilling to step forward and pursue these kinds of dreams like the Pacific Science Center,” said Terry Novak, former city manager and now executive director of the Joint Center for Higher Education.

“We have to turn this thing around and get Spokane into the 21st-century economy or the state will be sending money here forever through the welfare system,” Novak said.

A nice place to live

Spokane has beautiful parks, gloriously restored mansions, gracious homes on tree-lined streets and public buildings so lovely several are on the National Register of Historic Places.

The city and county are blessed with good public schools, a comparatively low crime rate, and lower cost of living than the West Side.

Outstanding outdoor recreation from skiing to mountain biking, kayaking and canoeing, hiking and flyfishing are a short drive away.

It’s a place where people take care not only of their own, but of people a half a world away. When city residents learned of local volunteers traveling to Romania to help the orphans, they donated $60,000 to the cause.

Local government employees’ gifts to United Way last year averaged $107 each, the highest in the nation. It wasn’t the first time. “Giving is part of the culture in Spokane,” said Cheryl Freeman of United Way of Spokane County.

The city is home to one of the largest foot races in America, enjoyed by everyone from elite athletes to hometown folks walking the race while dressed as a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

While no heavyweight in the arts or sports, Spokane has a symphony orchestra, a 12,500-seat arena, and professional hockey, baseball and soccer teams.

One of its local theater companies, the Civic Theater, placed second this year in a national theater competition.

Those are the kinds of things that led Reader’s Digest to name Spokane one of the 10 best places in America to raise a family in its April issue.

But many business leaders say if Spokane is to remain a great place to raise a family - or become one for people struggling to make ends meet - the economy needs retooling.

“People like living here so much they are willing to accept a less vibrant economy. We tend to move to the lower end of the service sector, the back-room operations and insurance processing centers,” said John Wagner, a regional senior vice president at Seafirst Bank.

“They are not by and large jobs that are sustainable for family living. They offer reasonably good pay but not at the level that will bring the whole community forward.”

The number of people living in poverty in Spokane County rose by 19 percent between 1980 and 1990. That compares with an 11 percent increase statewide and only 3.3 percent in King County.

The percentage of people on welfare in Spokane was twice as high as in Seattle in fiscal year 1994, the most recent year state statistics are available. The same year, one in five Spokane residents depended on food stamps; the number was nearly one in eight in Seattle.

Spokane led all cities in the state with the percentage of residents in detox programs. It also outpaced Seattle in use of state medical assistance.

Job growth in the Seattle area is expected to be more than double the rate in Spokane through 2001, state forecasts show.

And while Seattle is a national leader in high-tech and manufacturing, Spokane is still struggling to find its niche in a changing economy.

“We are going to grow, but how?” said Rep. Jeff Gombosky, D-Spokane. “There’s a qualitative difference to growth here. On the West Side it’s manufacturing and high tech. In Spokane it’s the service sector.”

The local business community has launched a five-year economic development plan called Focus 21 aimed at creating 10,000 higher paying jobs in the Inland Northwest.

“I don’t think any community can go forward until its discretionary income grows,” said John Wagner, a regional senior vice president at Seafirst Bank and co-chair of the Focus 21 effort.

“In Spokane we have poverty both in families and children. People are more talented and have more to give than they are paid for. That is not healthy for a community. We need to concentrate on the higher end. We need those higher-wage jobs.”

Going it alone

People in Spokane tend to rely on themselves, instead of seeking help from the state.

Residents taxed themselves to build a new arena, while Seattle unabashedly put the votes together in the Legislature to win state support for a $414 million baseball stadium and $425 million football and soccer stadium and exhibition center.

Millions of state tax dollars also have been spent to improve Seattle’s Pike Place Market, convention center, children’s theater, art museum, Pacific Northwest Ballet, symphony, opera and repertory theater.

Spokane rarely asks for that kind of help.

The situation has become almost comic, with administrators of state arts and historic preservation programs saying anyone in Spokane with a pulse would get money if they would only ask.

“Really? Someone in Spokane wants money? Tell me who they are and I’ll go visit them personally,” said Dan Aarthun, who helps screen applicants for arts spending approved by legislators in the capital budget.

Much of the discrepancy in spending is explained by the fact that Seattle is the financial, cultural and population center of the Pacific Northwest.

But it’s also a matter of attitude.

“I’m always struck by the difference on the West Side. It’s that can-do attitude, and no compunction about asking,” said Rosemary Selinger of Spokane, chairman of the Washington State Arts Commission. “We need more of that in Spokane.”

Tacoma, about the same size as Spokane, is renowned for its ability to snag state money.

A steady stream of tax dollars into Tacoma beginning in 1986 helped spur a downtown renaissance anchored by a University of Washington branch campus, at a cost of $80.7 million and counting; a $4.5 million renovation of a historic train station; and a new, $40.8 million history museum.

“When I was speaker I was not the least bit shy about using the position to better my city and I was proud of every dime I could put in the state budget to help Tacoma and the region,” said Brian Ebersole, who served as House speaker in 1993 and 1994.

Ebersole, now the mayor of Tacoma, helped lead a crack team of legislators in a commando effort to capture capital budget dollars.

Troops back home worked before the start of the legislative session to forge a common agenda in Olympia.

Then leaders from the port of Tacoma to Pierce County Transit to the University of Washington gathered in Olympia for regular, bi-partisan delegation meetings to help keep the agenda on track.

Conference calls throughout the session kept community priorities in focus.

“We really worked at having a common agenda,” Ebersole said. “Once it was handed off to the delegation the expectation was you will deliver. That was the culture.”

Spokane’s record in Olympia is mixed.

In the past five years, the state has poured $17.5 million into expansion of the Airway Heights prison and more than $30 million into the Riverpoint Higher Education Park. Tens of millions more have been spent on improvements to the community colleges, Eastern Washington University and Eastern State Hospital.

Other community projects, such as expansion of the Cheney Cowles Museum and further development of Riverpoint, have received money for planning and design, but not construction.

To help push Spokane’s agenda, business and community leaders have launched a new effort to hand off a unified list of priorities to the delegation in Olympia.

That’s better than the strategy of previous years, which Spokane City Manager Bill Pupo likened to a mad scramble for the puck at a Chief’s hockey game.

But lawmakers still don’t work as a team. “I don’t think we are that organized,” said Sen. Bob McCaslin, R-Spokane Valley. “Each one of us has our own individual efforts.”

Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, agreed. “There’s not a very high trust level between the Republican part of our delegation and the Democratic part.

“We mostly spend a lot of time being really critical of each other’s priorities. I think there isn’t a good working relationship there in terms of working together for local priorities.”

Spokane used to be a leader of the Eastern Washington Caucus, a tight-knit group that helped lawmakers make the most of their limited numbers during the 1980s.

Together, lawmakers secured state money to build the Yakima Sun Dome and corralled a hefty share of the Centennial Clean Water Fund to pay for sewer construction and protect Spokane water quality.

In recent years, said Sen. Eugene Prince, R-Thornton, the caucus has “degenerated to a discussion society.”

Rep. Larry Crouse, R-Spokane Valley, chairman of the caucus, agreed. “At this point it’s more informational. It’s not a real aggressive caucus.

“We have a problem getting people to show up. We could have 33 members but just a handful of people usually attend. It’s very difficult to be very pro-active when only about a third of the people show up. We are so busy over here it’s very hard to make time for another meeting.”

‘Mostly reactive’

Spokane’s lawmakers have generally been reluctant suitors of capital budget dollars.

“When I came over here it wasn’t to take pork back to my district,” said Rep. Mark Sterk, R-Spokane Valley.

While he pushed for a community center in the Valley, Sterk stayed mum on downtown projects. “It’s not my district.”

Novak, who lobbies the delegation to secure money for the Riverpoint campus, said Spokane-area lawmakers “mostly are reactive. They listen to us and when we call a meeting they come and are cordial and take notes.

“But in terms of catching a vision and projecting, it’s not their style. It’s the whole cultural milieu. If the citizens don’t expect much from their government, legislators take that as their cue,” Novak said.

“I think we are outvoted a little. But I also think it’s a mindset,” said Rep. Duane Sommers, R-Spokane. “We never have gotten the state’s largesse. Maybe we just don’t believe we are entitled to it.”

Indeed, McCaslin boasts of never asking for anything in the capital budget - until this year.

“In the 17 years I’ve been here I’ve never been impressed with anything that really had to happen,” McCaslin said.

This year, he demanded state money to help build a community center at Mirabeau Point in the Spokane Valley. He warned colleagues he would not provide a crucial vote for the state budget unless the project got $1.5 million.

McCaslin got his way.

But his colleague in the Valley, Larry Crouse said he doesn’t want to push it, even for Mirabeau Point. “I feel reasonably uncomfortable asking for specific projects. That’s just me,” Crouse said.

“If you are always pushing and being a real pain it hurts your agenda. I work within the framework in a nice way. It’s like knowing when to pick a fight. I like to pick a fight I can win.”

West Siders, meanwhile, haven’t met a fight they don’t mind taking on. They have been aggressive and creative at the state and local level about building the infrastructure of economic expansion.

In Seattle, that includes building a third runway at the airport, expanding the port, doubling the size of the convention center, redeveloping downtown arts and retail attractions, and constructing a regional transit system. Not to mention building two new stadiums.

To pay for it leaders in business and government have been resourceful and aggressive, tapping public and private money, from tax hikes to user fees, private investment and public debt.

“This is a city that is still willing to get things done,” said Bob Watt, president and CEO of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce.

At the Spokane chamber, Dan Kirschner remembers being cautioned by friends about coming back home from Olympia to take his job as director of public affairs.

“When I interviewed for this job people warned me. They said, ‘You ought to think twice about coming back here. We are in the grip of this group of naysayers and we don’t know if we are going anywhere.”’

Spokane’s undoing is “nit-picking, divergent, henpecking battling,” said Philip Kuharski, who recently retired as vice president of investments at Prudential Securities.

“We should be looking at how can we make things happen instead of how can we stop them.”

Low-wage mecca

Spokane’s low-wage economy was years in the making. The city has traditionally offered itself as a place with bargain-basement labor costs and a stable, dependable workforce.

“We are far from markets. One of the ways we need to compete is lower wages,” said Randy Barcus, senior market forecaster at Washington Water Power Co.

“It’s one of the reasons a lot of companies have moved here, to reduce their costs. That’s part of the attractiveness of this community, is its relatively lower wages and lower cost of living. We probably have the right mix of wages for the types of work that need to occur in this community and a lot of that work is lower-wage work.”

Apparently: A 1996 survey by Regional Financial Associates of the overall cost of doing business in 100 cities around the country ranked Spokane at a rock-bottom 97th place.

Some wonder if Spokane’s low-wage strategy has succeeded a bit too well.

“I look at economic development as a direct relationship of how are you going to feed your people,” said Pete Kerwien, a business strategist for WWP.

“I don’t think elected officials connect with that. They don’t see it as an emergency. But if you aren’t feeding your people what bigger priority is there?”

State efforts to boost economic development haven’t done much to pump up the low-wage economy.

A state economic program hatched in 1985 has steered hundreds of millions of dollars in business investment to counties all over the state, from a $200 million steel plant in Cowlitz County to a $104 million sugar beet plant in Grant County.

But the program has been of little use to Spokane County. That’s because it targets areas with high unemployment. Spokane’s problem isn’t jobs, but low wages.

The program also was watered down by the Legislature over time so that now, every county qualifies through a range of exemptions.

That in turn has encouraged more employers to go where they always have: the I-5 corridor, where an abundance of skilled labor and critical mass of manufacturing and high-tech firms are a magnet for investment.

As of January of this year only one company took advantage of the distressed areas program in Spokane, to defer payment of sales taxes on a $2.7 million investment in a high-tech electronics business called XN Technologies.

A related program allows companies to defer or even forego payment of taxes on manufacturing machinery and equipment. That program encouraged Kaiser to spend $102 million on its Mead and Trentwood plants.

The spending didn’t create new jobs, but it will help keep Kaiser in Spokane. Kaiser employs 2,637 workers at an average wage, with benefits, of more than $62,000 a year.

Our low-wage economy hasn’t been a high-profile issue in Olympia. “It’s a hard problem to solve. There is no one thing you can point to, and say here, that would do it,” said Rep. Gombosky, the Spokane Democrat.

“Spokane has always been known as a retirement town,” said Crouse. “If you want a bigwig job you don’t go to Spokane. That image is changing, but it’s not totally changed. We can’t just live in a vacuum and say we don’t need to do anything because we have retirement. We need to make a better business climate in the state.”

Some policy makers also don’t understand Spokane’s urban nature and needs because the city is surrounded by farm and timber land. They don’t understand the city’s role as a regional hub that draws people from as far east as Montana and north as Canada for shopping, entertainment and medical care.

“People are always saying to me, ‘You have farming in your district, don’t you?’ I tell them, ‘Well no, actually, not at all,”’ Gombosky said.

Backers of the International Agricultural Trade Center in Spokane were careful to call it that so it would get state money, even though only some of the events there feature agriculture.

“That name touched people’s stereotypes of what Spokane is all about. If we called it the Spokane International Trade Center people would have giggled,” said Novak.

“People say things to me like, ‘I didn’t know Spokane had such tall buildings.”’

Attitude adjustment

Business leaders are positioning for the future by pushing workforce training and trying to attract more high-wage jobs.

To lure people and employers with high expectations, Spokane has to have them, too, said Novak.

“It’s difficult to attract really high quality industrial prospects when the attitude is, ‘Things are good enough. It’ll do. It’s not half-bad.”’

Bill Gray, dean of WSU Spokane, calls Spokane a Midwest community that happens to be in the Pacific Northwest. “Its vision of itself is of being smaller rather than larger.” Many, he noted, would like to keep it that way.

Some see a deterioration of the kind of leadership that helped build much of the foundation of present-day Spokane.

In the past, business and community leaders were similar to their counterparts in Seattle today. They were happy to pick anyone’s pocket to make their dream happen.

Back in the 1970s, the goal was Expo, and its backers were determined.

“They used railroad funds and state funds and federal funds and taxed themselves,” said Gray. “They were aggressive people, pursuing an objective and leaving no stone unturned. Is that the community you see presently? I think I’d have to say no.

“A great deal of it is attitude. We have not decided what we want to grow up and be.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 18 Color photos 8 Graphics: 1. Our politics, their politics 2. By the numbers: Political 3. Who gets more money? 4. By the numbers: Money 5. Who lives better? 6. Family matters 7. By the numbers: People 8. By the Numbers: This ‘n that

MEMO: Reprints of this series will be available in August. Call (509) 747-4422.

Six sidebars appeared with the story: 1. OPINION POLLS Several polls of East Side and West Side residents appear in this report. They were conducted for The Spokesman-Review by Mason-Dixon Political/Media Research Inc., from June 9 through June 11, 1997. The margin for error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

2. TAXING QUESTIONS Taxpayers in Seattle and Spokane have very different views on paying for public services. Take roads. Public outcry against tax hikes to pay for road repairs has killed road improvements twice in Spokane in the last two years. In Seattle, taxpayers recently voted to tax themselves an average of $100 a year to help build a $4 billion regional transit system. When a Seattle street tax was struck down as unconstitutional, some city residents still insisted on paying it. Thousands of taxpayers have sent back government refund checks worth more than $450,000, asking Seattle officials to spend the money on pothole repairs.

3. A CLASSIC MISMATCH When the Seattle Symphony needed a new hall, supporters pushed to get city, county, state and private money for the $109 million project. The symphony hall, opening next year, will have a 2,500-seat auditorium and 540-seat recital hall. Spokane’s symphony, meanwhile, has been struggling to pay the bills. Last March, Spokane County commissioners, led by Kate McCaslin, reneged on a $17,000 commitment to the symphony from hotel-motel taxes, saying priorities such as golf courses should come first. After symphony supporters pushed their case, McCaslin changed her position. The money was provided along with MsCaslin’s warning that it might be the last time.

4. CAR WARS In King County, 53 people registered a new Porsche last year. In Spokane County, one did. The Jaguar count: King County, 75; Spokane, 4.

5. WHAT’S IN A NAME? The nicknames for Seattle and Spokane are telling. Seattle is the glamorous Emerald City or Jet City, where Seattlites, 206ers and Coasties live. Spokane is the laid-back River City, old-fashioned Lilac City, silly Spoke-aloo, or simply The Can. It’s home to Spokanites.

6. WHO’S LOBBYING FOR SPOKANE? Seattle has three full-time lobbyists in Olympia. Tacoma has one full-time and one part-time lobbyist who works on contract for the city. Everett has a full-time lobbyist during the Legislative session, and so does Vancouver. The city of Spokane uses two part-time, contract lobbyists who also represent other clients, including other cities. Spokane County has no lobbyist in Olympia.

Reprints of this series will be available in August. Call (509) 747-4422.

Six sidebars appeared with the story: 1. OPINION POLLS Several polls of East Side and West Side residents appear in this report. They were conducted for The Spokesman-Review by Mason-Dixon Political/Media Research Inc., from June 9 through June 11, 1997. The margin for error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

2. TAXING QUESTIONS Taxpayers in Seattle and Spokane have very different views on paying for public services. Take roads. Public outcry against tax hikes to pay for road repairs has killed road improvements twice in Spokane in the last two years. In Seattle, taxpayers recently voted to tax themselves an average of $100 a year to help build a $4 billion regional transit system. When a Seattle street tax was struck down as unconstitutional, some city residents still insisted on paying it. Thousands of taxpayers have sent back government refund checks worth more than $450,000, asking Seattle officials to spend the money on pothole repairs.

3. A CLASSIC MISMATCH When the Seattle Symphony needed a new hall, supporters pushed to get city, county, state and private money for the $109 million project. The symphony hall, opening next year, will have a 2,500-seat auditorium and 540-seat recital hall. Spokane’s symphony, meanwhile, has been struggling to pay the bills. Last March, Spokane County commissioners, led by Kate McCaslin, reneged on a $17,000 commitment to the symphony from hotel-motel taxes, saying priorities such as golf courses should come first. After symphony supporters pushed their case, McCaslin changed her position. The money was provided along with MsCaslin’s warning that it might be the last time.

4. CAR WARS In King County, 53 people registered a new Porsche last year. In Spokane County, one did. The Jaguar count: King County, 75; Spokane, 4.

5. WHAT’S IN A NAME? The nicknames for Seattle and Spokane are telling. Seattle is the glamorous Emerald City or Jet City, where Seattlites, 206ers and Coasties live. Spokane is the laid-back River City, old-fashioned Lilac City, silly Spoke-aloo, or simply The Can. It’s home to Spokanites.

6. WHO’S LOBBYING FOR SPOKANE? Seattle has three full-time lobbyists in Olympia. Tacoma has one full-time and one part-time lobbyist who works on contract for the city. Everett has a full-time lobbyist during the Legislative session, and so does Vancouver. The city of Spokane uses two part-time, contract lobbyists who also represent other clients, including other cities. Spokane County has no lobbyist in Olympia.

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