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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Editorial: How should the city handle economic development?

Disagreement between the city of Spokane and Greater Spokane Incorporated over the Spokane Tribe’s casino may have one good outcome: coalescing of their economic development efforts.

GSI opposition to the casino irritates City Council members who support the West Plains resort because of the construction and hospitality industry jobs that will be created. Never mind the threat to entertainment venues within the city, or to the thousands of jobs at Fairchild Air Force Base, the loss of which concerns GSI and its hundreds of member businesses in and out of the city.

The council has threatened to terminate the city’s $92,440 contribution to GSI’s $4 million budget. The fallback is a six-month extension of the relationship while the city and economic development agency reassess the relationship, with the possibility the city might put its contract for those services out for bid.

A council review of priorities would be a good exercise. Perhaps someone or something better is out there.

Certainly, the city’s internal economic development efforts going back several administrations were impeded by shifting priorities and personnel. That has changed with targeted initiatives in Hillyard, the Perry District and along East Sprague, which should benefit tremendously from the pedestrian bridge that will connect it with the University District.

But the division over the casino revealed some misunderstanding about GSI’s different responsibilities to its hundreds of member businesses all over Spokane County, and the services that, by contract, it owes the city.

One-third of the city’s dollars – $3,000 per month – fund lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C. GSI spends another $7,000 of member money for lobbying, but the business organization’s objectives don’t necessarily dovetail with the city’s.

The rest of the city money is dedicated to encouraging infrastructure improvements, workforce training, improving the business environment, and recruitment of new businesses. Now, welcome as a new Caterpillar distribution center may be, to cite a fairly recent example, it’s nurturing homegrown ventures and existing local businesses that create the most new jobs.

Yet, the city does not pay for GSI nonrecruitment efforts, which some council members did not know.

A six-month contract extension should provide enough time to assure city and GSI development efforts reinforce each other. If not, then the city can look for help elsewhere.

And as they go through this process, council members might want to consider whether the benefits of new streets, neighborhood improvements and simplified permitting are not being offset by efforts to dictate wages and benefits to business.

Editorial was corrected. The city approved a 2016 legislative agenda for federal lobbying. Plus, Greater Spokane Inc. spends $7,000 per month of member money on lobbying, not $5,000.