Metro Spotlight: Spokane, Washington

Spokane: An Unspoken Success Story of the West

Located on the eastern side of Washington state, 18 miles west of Idaho and 100 miles south of Canada, the Spokane region is home to 1.4 million people in the Inland Northwest. Since 2005, the Spokane region’s labor force has doubled the national average’s pace, adding more than 21,000 jobs since 2002.

Spokane’s workforce is comprised of more than 90% college graduates, and more than 65,000 students study within a 75-mile radius of the city. The education hub of the Inland Northwest, Spokane has the second largest community college district in Washington, and the area boasts 18 higher education institutions in total. More than 60% of residents have attended college and almost 30% hold a bachelor’s degree, while more than 10% hold degrees beyond the post-baccalaureate level.

Spokane’s attractive business climate has drawn some interesting organizations to its region. One in particular is Seattle-based Lighthouse for the Blind, Inc., which plans to open a satellite facility in Spokane this month, and increase its workforce to 40 people within three years.

Within its first year, the Lighthouse hopes to employ five to 10 people who are blind. The U.S. Labor Department reports at least a 70% unemployment rate among the blind. Available positions at the Lighthouse include machinists, production workers, computer instructors, IT specialists, receptionists, and Web programmers, among others. The Lighthouse offers support services such as orientation and mobility training, housing support, and computer training.

Spokane’s Power of Community

Created in 2001, the Spokane Community Empowerment Zone (CEZ) spurs economic development throughout Spokane County by offering tax incentives to qualified businesses engaged in manufacturing, R&D or software development. Businesses must apply for the credits prior to groundbreaking or hiring; locate or expand within the designated geographic area (Spokane’s West Central, East Central, and Hillyard neighborhoods); and/or locate in a county having a designated zone and hire employees who are residents of the zone.

Forty-two companies have taken advantage of the CEZ benefits, saving a combined $8 million in tax incentives. In turn, these companies have invested $94 million into the Spokane region and created 1,210 new jobs in total. Spokane’s CEZ offers:

  • A Sales and Use Tax Deferral or Exemption on new equipment and construction costs for new or remodeled buildings used in manufacturing, R&D activities, or computer-related activities.
  • A Business and Occupation New Job Tax Credit of $2,000 (for wages and benefits worth $40,000 or less) or $4,000 (for wages and benefits worth more than $40,000) per new job created by manufacturing, R&D, or software development firms.
  • A Business and Occupation Business Tax Credit of $3,000 (for up to five years) per new job created by companies providing specific international business services.

Linked By Land, Air, and Wire

Spokane is the Inland Northwest’s main connection point. Interstate 90 is a major commuter and trade route for eastern Spokane County and northern Idaho, with traffic volumes exceeding 100,000 vehicles per day. Spokane Transit Authority’s mass transit system covers 371 square miles, 39 different bus routes, and has 12 park-and-ride lots. Spokane is served by the Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroads. Direct lines service railways from Seattle to Chicago, serving as a gateway to and from the interior United States.

Spokane International Airport (SIA) is a 4,800-acre commercial service airport served by 10 airlines and four air cargo carriers. This second-largest airport in the state processed 3.2 million passengers and 57,000 U.S. air cargo tons in 2006. Two other local facilities are managed by SIA, which recently completed more than $70 million in upgrades.

Spokane’s telecommunications and digital infrastructure has fiber optics in place throughout its business community, with over 500 route miles of dark and lit fiber deployed throughout the region.