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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion

Ed center needs its million dollars

The Spokesman-Review

A million dollars is not a sum to be taken lightly, even in a state budget that’s roughly 25,000 times larger.

Still, if you’re an agency that depends on that million dollars for the bulk of your budget, and the state has come through for you for several years running, the abrupt loss of such funding is no trifle.

The Inland Northwest Technology Education Center, or INTEC, finds itself in that uncomfortable situation as the Washington Legislature enters the last week of its 2005 session. The Spokane institution has only days to persuade state lawmakers to restore the relatively modest level of funding that has allowed INTEC to promote work-force training and entrepreneurial creativity aimed at energizing the Spokane economy.

Since its founding five years ago, INTEC has suffered from an abstract mission, vaguely defined and hard to grasp in an environment oriented around traditional job-creation methods.

INTEC began in 2000, all about training a work force with the skills needed by biomedical and high-tech businesses – businesses that offer handsome payrolls but won’t locate in Spokane unless the community could promise the right kind of labor pool.

Traditional economic development organizations and higher-learning institutions weren’t responsive enough to meet those kinds of demands quickly, INTEC backers say. Getting businesses and colleges to understand and meet each other’s needs took a new approach. And it took a creative intervenor to bring the necessary parties together.

That was to be INTEC’s role. The community would benefit through a more stable economy, better-paying jobs and rising prosperity. The Spokane area’s revved economic engine would result in less demand for social services and greater contributions from this area into the state’s tax revenues.

The Legislature was sold, putting $1 million into the 2001-02 biennial budget and $970,000 for 2003-04. Gov. Christine Gregoire had $968,000 in her 2005-06 spending plan, but then some ill-defined questions arose in the Senate and the funding disappeared. That alarm scared the House off, too.

The Senate’s questions notwithstanding, INTEC has made a positive impact in Spokane, most notably the founding of Connect Northwest, which in turn has had a successful track record of helping promising young companies assemble the capital, know-how and support they need to get off the ground successfully.

INTEC itself is mostly an intellectual operation, more about process than product, and that makes it difficult for budget-conscious lawmakers to see the return on their investment. Yet to withdraw the funding without warning or clear explanation was an arbitrary act that unfairly undermines one aspect of the Spokane area’s economic development strategy.

Lawmakers would be wiser and fairer to restore the governor’s appropriation and put INTEC on notice that they’ll be looking for a concrete case for funding when they gather in Olympia two years from now.

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