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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Shawn Vestal: Spokane hacks Seattle and strikes a nerve

Shawn Vestal (Dan Pelle / DAN PELLE)
Shawn Vestal (Dan Pelle / DAN PELLE)

Time was, if Spokane went a-courtin’ in Seattle, trying to woo businesses and rich folk over to the dry side, it wouldn’t have raised a whisper of concern in the Emerald City.

But now – in an interesting illustration of Spokane-now versus Spokane-then – the Seattle mayor finds herself compelled to defend her city against the incursion of Spokane’s Hacking Washington campaign, a city-run marketing effort to persuade West Side business owners to give up the rat race and head east.

“You used to think you could have it all in Washington,” one of the Hacking Washington slogans reads. “We still do.”

Durkan’s response, in a nutshell: Seattle is too a great place to live!

“Seattle is home to the best companies because we have long been a leading global destination for high-skilled workers and thought leaders,” Durkan said in a statement reported this week on KIRO-TV. “While I hope Spokane continues to grow, there’s no greater city to live, work and enjoy than Seattle.”

OK then. Looks like Hacking Washington struck a nerve. Again.

The campaign first raised some hackles here. Some members of the City Council had concerns about the campaign as it was wending its way through City Hall. Some didn’t like the tone of the ads – the casting of Spokane’s economy, in which so many live in poverty, as merely an affordable lifestyle opportunity for the rich.

There were also objections about cost – almost half a million bucks at a time when some see greater needs. Most of the council got on board eventually, with Councilwoman Kate Burke casting the lone vote against it.

“I do think overall the message is disrespectful to our constituents in Spokane,” Burke said in September. “But mostly I’m wondering why we’re spending $500,000 on an advertising campaign when we could have used that to educate or train local people.”

Supporters of the campaign say it has the potential to produce economic benefits here that far outweigh the costs. The goal is to get the attention of Seattle businesses in tech, health care, aerospace and other industries, and sell them on the benefits of moving to Spokane or locating a branch here.

The campaign targets more than 500 specific businesses, directing them to a website with information about Spokane’s workforce and quality of life – often as they are compared with the crowded, expensive West Side. It’s the first such economic development effort the city has undertaken, and Mayor David Condon himself is involved as a recruiter, including plans to meet with Seattle fish that take the bait.

What seems to have raised hackles is the campaign’s very decided focus on using “not-Seattle” as one of Spokane’s chief attractions.

KIRO-TV did a report on Hacking Washington on Monday.

“The digs at Seattle throughout the campaign aren’t exactly subtle – ‘As commute times and the cost of business and housing go up in Seattle, the quality of life is going south’ – the website says – and Seattle’s mayor took notice.”

Would Seattle’s mayor have taken notice a decade ago? Maybe. But the factors that Hacking Washington is trying to capitalize on – a Spokane which is improving in the cultural ways in which Seattle has long held an advantage, while Seattle is seeing growing problems in the cost and livability factors in which Spokane has had an edge – have intensified in recent years.

It’s a sign of the times that Durkan and KIRO didn’t just ignore Hacking Washington as the futile outcries of its pipsqueak little brother.

Maybe that means it’s working.

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