Idea #17: Stronger ties to Seattle

The Bank of America Financial Center, formerly known as the Seafirst Financial Center, represents a bygone era of strong Spokane ties to Seattle in name as well as in action. (PHOTO: Jesse Tinsley/Spokesman-Review)

In 1980, the Spokane skyline welcomed its first newcomer in many, many years. The sleek, shiny Seafirst Financial Center was a modern new look for downtown, perhaps the most architecturally contemporary building currently in operation. But the building also represented something else entirely for Spokane: the strong ties that the city had built over many years with its western, metropolitan neighbor. By recommitting to a major operation in Spokane, SeaFirst (which merged with Bank of America in 1998) showed a high level of confidence in the inland Northwest, even at a time when the area’s downtown was starting to show signs of weakness.

Today, the Bank of America Financial Center, as it is now known, operates in relative obscurity, a simple Class A office building; nothing more, nothing less. But more broadly, Spokane’s ties to Seattle, which have always been significant, have been downplayed, downgraded, and similarly obscured. No longer does a major downtown building illuminate an obvious tie to our larger, older brother. No longer is Spokane’s economy so tied to Seattle’s.

And believe it or not, I think that that’s a bad thing.

Seattle could be an incredible marketing point for Spokane. We certainly have incredible access. Business travelers can choose between one of twenty daily flights on Alaska/Horizon or Delta, which offer best-in-class mileage programs, or a pretty simple four-hour drive. We offer a much lower cost of doing business, a lower cost of living, and an amazing quality of life, with easy access to outdoor recreation on local lakes, mountains, and trails. We have four universities, best-in-class medical facilities and doctors, and real resources and opportunities for expansion in the biomedical and technology industries. We could be an excellent complement to Seattle.

We should be trying to attract Washington companies. We’ve already attracted McKinstry. Imagine Amazon or Microsoft opening a research and development facility here, away from the lights, distractions, and spotlight of metro Seattle. Imagine Stryker (medical devices) or Genzyme (rare disease therapies) opening engineering facilities, with the benefit of world-class doctors and hospitals right down the street. We should be using Seattle to our benefit.

And yet, instead, Greater Spokane Incorporated markets the city to “stable” companies with “innovative” and “promising” long-term “growth potential.” Companies like Vivint.

What do you think? Should Spokane adopt closer ties to Seattle? Would our economy be better off tied to a strong one like Seattle’s? Would there be a benefit in marketing the way our city complements Seattle? Share your thoughts in the comments, on Twitter, on Facebook, and in person. We love to hear from you.

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3 thoughts on “Idea #17: Stronger ties to Seattle

  1. I wish we had frequent direct service to Portland and Seattle as well. A while back Seattle Transit Blog posted an interview with the BoltBus CEO about possibly expanding to Spokane but that was the last I heard of it. Also Ben Schiendelmen who has been doing great work with Seattle Subway has posted a lot about pushing for more frequent and upgraded.rail transit throughout Washington and especially between Spokane and Seattle.

  2. Interesting choice of examples to illustrate the point–that building is owned by Unico, a Seattle company. When I created Bike to Work Spokane with the help of what was then the Bicycle Alliance of Washington (now Washington Bikes, which I have headed for nearly two years), the Bicycle Alliance staff connected me with Unico and they became a sponsor of the activities to be part of the Spokane community.

    Washington Bikes now has a Sjpokane office with staffer Kate Johnston. We work statewide and I get to travel to a number of communities and see what works. So many westside places with great recreation and other assets are able to draw on the Seattle market and see that as a strategy for exposing people who may have a company they could move to a place they want to live in. Spokane’s four-season recreation could lie at the heart of a similar strategy.

    This isn’t a one-way connection, either. I share examples from Spokane and other towns whenever I can; the cross-fertilization potential is one of the great advantages and joys of working statewide. As just one example, Spokane has Summer Parkways annually thanks to Spokefest and many volunteers; Seattle has only some partial street restrictions and small neighborhood efforts and hasn’t done an Open Streest/ciclovia event of the same magnitude. When Seattle wants to look for ideas it doesn’t need to go to Portland–it can come to Spokane (or Anacortes, or Tacoma, or any of the other places starting to embrace the Ciclovia model).

    My answer would be YES, this state should get over its east/west divide and connect more deeply, highlighting the convenient air travel and also working to get faster and more convenient public transportation options (could Amtrak run a train that doesn’t stop in spokane at 2 a.m. but instead at some civilized hour?)..Businesses with Spokane roots like Red Lion Hotels, headquartered here with properties around the state, are another asset in this.

    The Prosperity Partnership, a project of the Puget Sound Regional Council, did tours for several years that took business/community leaders to a different region of the state each year to learn about its local economy and culture. When I worked at WSU Spokane I helped organize a piece of the eastern Washington tour and later went on one in central Washington.

    Could Spokane be the genesis of creating something similar that draws younger people in particular and takes our younger people to other regions for more cross-fertilization and connection? If they saw how easy it is to get around Spokane by bike compared to Seattle’s topography (since this is a generation less invested in driving than their elders), we’d have them. I don’t say this just because I head up a bike advocacy organization; bike infrastructure is seen more and more every day as a critical tool for talent recruitment. Just ask Rahm Emanuel, mayor of Chicago, who said he’s building bike lanes to steal the talent from Seattle and Portland.

    Barb Chamberlain
    Executive Director, Washington Bikes
    Proud to be a 509-er

  3. I remember a few years ago, when the majority of flights went through Sea-Tac. No direct flights to LAS, PHX and other cities at that time. The Seattle based airline bypassed Spokane from Montana cities and went directly to SEA. Seattle always took advantage of Spokane, as a distant little brother. They don’t see the Inland NW as an equal. No, I don’t think it is in Spokane’s best interest to have closer bonds to Seattle. I do think it is in Spokane’s interest to forge closer bonds to other cities in the West and Midwest (MSP, DEN and CA cities). Spokane needs to makes it’s benefits know to other areas of the U.S. and Canada. There are other cities Spokane seems a better fit for than Seattle.

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