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Spokane Spokesman-Review Article

by Kathy Mulady

September 9, 1999

Leaders list hurdles to new firms: Image repair and community support needed, symposium panelists say

Pick an animal that reminds you of the Spokane area.

How about an old hound dog, a lamb, an ostrich, or a litter of barn cats?

Those are some of the animals that came to mind for nine panelists during the third and final installment of the Greater Spokane Area Symposium series.

Mayor Gus Johnson of Post Falls picked an elephant.

"We're large and strong, but we don't do well in races," he said.

It was a humorous start to a serious topic: Spokane's economic future, the role high-technology and biotechnology will play, and the role of the community.

The warm-up exercise helped panelists describe economic development in the past, and how it might look in the future.

Panelists looking to the future picked leopards, tigers and eagles.

Johnson stuck with his elephant.

"The fastest elephant," he said.

Two previous symposiums laid the groundwork for the Wednesday session. The first gathering focused on Spokane's weaknesses, such as low-paying jobs and failure to attract new businesses.

Discussions centered on the need to bring emerging technologies to the region and reduce reliance on traditional retail and heavy manufacturing.

The second symposium challenged the status quo: Whose vision is it? Whose agenda? Where does the community dialogue take place? Why does the community reject new ideas?

A standing-room only crowd filled the Jepson Center at Gonzaga University on Wednesday for the final symposium.

The panel was moderated by David Van Nuys, president of e-FocusGroups and a northern California university professor.

Mayors, economic development experts, educators and high-tech business owners from Spokane, Post Falls and Coeur d'Alene talked about the difficulties of luring new businesses to the Inland Northwest.

The region first needs to repair its image and encourage diversity, said Mayor Steve Judy of Coeur d'Alene, whose city streets have sometimes provided a stage for Aryan Nations marches.

Sam Smith, president of Washington State University, scanned the all-male panel, and then noted there were at least some women in the audience. But he shook his head at the lack of ethnicity among the crowd.

"If we set up a panel at the university like this, we'd get shot," said Smith.

Some panelists blamed the difficulty of recruiting in-demand high-tech businesses on a lack of resources or tools, such as tax-increment financing, port districts and cave people.

"That's c.a.v.e.," Johnson said. "Citizens against virtually everything."

Most panelists agreed that community support is crucial if the drive to recruit new businesses is going to be successful.

Bill Stimson, a journalism professor at Eastern Washington University, noted a high rate of cynicism in the city, and voter opposition to new ideas including past proposals to form a port district, the Arena funding, Pacific Science Center plans, and a proposal to combine city and county governments.

Stimson suggested taking a lesson from the can-do leadership that made Expo '74 happen.

"The project leadership has to go out and get things done. You have to get out of rooms like this and go out into the community," he said.

"Does the public believe and understand that high-tech jobs in the community improve the quality of life for everyone?" asked Bernard Daines, founder of Packet Engines and a symposium supporter.

To encourage discussion, an Internet site has been set up at www.spokane-ecommerce.com.

John Stone, the symposium coordinator, took responsibility for gathering the all-male panel. He promised his first step will be to change the Web site's logo: two business-suited white men shaking hands.

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