Idea #19: A real startup fund

Spokane Startup Weekend, which takes place in the early spring at McKinstry's Innovation Center, offers a great opportunity for innovators to connect, collaborate, and network. Unfortunately, we still suffer from a lack of venture funding and mentoring. (PHOTO: Startup Weekend Spokane)
Spokane Startup Weekend, which takes place in the early spring at McKinstry’s Innovation Center, offers a great opportunity for innovators to connect, collaborate, and network. Unfortunately, we still suffer from a lack of venture funding and mentoring. (PHOTO: Startup Weekend Spokane)

In Silicon Valley, ten percent of startups hit it big. In Spokane, if we could hit half of that number, we would be doing quite well. Area startups have a good number of resources, with LaunchPad NW, McKinstry’s Spokane Innovation Center, and Startup Weekend Spokane, but still, we’re not exactly the hotbed for startups that we could be with additional capital and focus. A true startup fund, with a focus on mentorship, could be a real boon to our region’s innovation economy.

Whether it’s a single angel investor or a group of local well-off citizens, we need some people to start venture funding startups. We need additional low-cost incubator space for startups to grow. We need the infrastructure to support the next generation of tech startups, from fiber-optic internet service to a late-night coffeeshop within walking distance. With a focused effort, Spokane could become a haven for startups. It just needs to coordinate disparate groups in different areas working around different goals. It needs to coalesce around a specific, clear, and certain plan aimed at growing innovation locally and globally.

What do you think? Could startups be a path forward for Spokane? Would a startup fund, and greater capital for startups, as well as a focused effort to attract them, help to grow Spokane’s innovation economy? Shout out in the comments, on Facebook, or on Twitter. We love to hear from you.

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.

Idea #16: Create a week-long festival-like atmosphere surrounding Bloomsday

Bloomsday is one of Spokane’s most-cherished and best-loved events, attracting runners from all over the region and world. How could we better capitalize on its clear economic clout and increase civic pride? (PHOTO: BestRoadRaces.com)

The Lilac Bloomsday Run has been a Spokane mainstay for nearly two generations. Through its 38-year history, the race has grown into an event and spectacle unlike any other, featuring a full two-day trade show, a small festival of sorts in Riverfront Park, and the colorful characters and costumes that have helped make the event famous. The giant buzzard at the top of Doomsday Hill comes to mind. Or the woman who dresses as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz every year. Or the inevitable gorilla-suited individuals. Or the infamous bucket band. They’re quirky, weird, even bizarre, but they help make Spokane, Spokane.

What if we could extend this liveliness, this energy, this sense for the delightfully weird so that it could last longer, sustain itself longer, fester longer? What if we had a week-long Bloomsday Festival? This event could run the week leading up to Bloomsday, and it could feature nightly live music or family movies in Riverfront Park, food truck rallies, vendor sales, and street parades. We could bring in runners, triathletes, wheelchair runners to talk about training and the importance of a healthy lifestyle. This could be a great time to educate citizens and hold “ciclovia”/Summer Parkways-style events. Imagine a yoga session with a thousand participants in Riverfront Park. Or healthy-eating seminars at Riverpark Square and across the city. Or an “envision your future Spokane” session with planners taking notes from hundreds of engaged citizens; there could be no better time to get local input. Indeed, imagine the possibilities! Overall, the festival would focus on active, engaged lifestyles and maintaining balance in a 24-hour world.

What do you think? Could Bloomsday be expanded into a week-long festival of healthy lifestyles and civic pride? What events would you like to see? How can we grow civic pride by better utilizing our existing events? As always, we encourage you to comment below, on Facebook, on Twitter, or in person. We love to hear from you.

Idea #15: A well-produced advertising campaign and manifesto

Portland has a clear, cohesive, and well-developed strategy surrounding its tourism and travel marketing. It’s an active, energetic campaign anchored by Portlandia-esque characters, a specific vision and brilliant visuals. More importantly, the campaign acts as a sort of manifesto for the city. You feel like you’re in Portland.

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Idea #14: Move most important graduate-level programs from WSU Pullman to WSU Spokane

Washington State University’s Health Sciences Building in Spokane’s University District illustrates the possibilities presented by graduate education in the Spokane area. Clearly something still is lacking. Could it be time to relocate programs from WSU Pullman to WSU Spokane?

Here’s a bold idea that might not attract too much popular support but should be considered as part of a broader package of ideas that would revitalize downtown Spokane and enhance educational opportunities and outcomes in our state. What if Washington State University moved a significant number of its graduate-level programs to its Spokane campus in the University District? This would be a bold move requiring a massive build-out on the Riverpoint campus, but it would also solve one of the bigger issues facing our city addressed in Idea #12; namely, a lack of quality graduate-level programs, especially in the sciences, engineering, and other STEM fields.

This deficit of graduate education might be a result of having such a large research institution located “nearby,” but not actually within our city limits. Pullman is nearly 75 miles away, which results in challenges for both the institution and the city in educating and retaining young urban professionals in order to attract attention from large companies looking to relocate.

Under this scenario, WSU Pullman would become primarily and undergradate-focused institution with some research being performed by professors and students of the remaining graduate programs, but also new and ground-breaking opportunities for undergraduate research in STEM fields. A focus on teaching would heighten the level of education offered by the institution and better educate undergraduates for a twenty-first century global economy. WSU Spokane, meanwhile, would expand into a full-service graduate student campus, meeting the needs of its students through high-quality labs and field work and a wealth of internship and externship opportunities in the local community. Perhaps a commuter rail service could connect the two campuses in order to drive synergies between the two offered products.

Of course, I don’t expect WSU Pullman to go undergraduate-only anytime soon, and I don’t expect WSU to move all graduate programs to Spokane. But I do think it raises an interesting question. How can WSU Spokane better provide graduate education in STEM fields to the region? Is it time for major STEM programs like computer engineering to be relocated to the Spokane campus? How can our statewide higher education system meet the needs of a globalizing twenty-first century economy? These are questions the community needs to be asking as it develops a vision for the University District and for the city moving forward.

Idea #13: Turn up the #Volume509

Spokane’s Volume Music Festival, sponsored by the Pacific Northwest Inlander, is a great event that needs to grow even further in order to build Spokane’s music destination credentials. (PHOTO: The Inlander)

Spokane’s Volume Music Festival, which is sponsored by the Inlander, is a fantastic event that has grown by leaps and bounds since its early days several years ago. Now being held for two days in late May, Volume has exceeded the wildest expectations of many, helping to launch newer groups and grow fan bases.

But let’s dream bigger. How about attracting some more regional acts? How about using new venues (that Riverfront Park amphitheater can’t be completed soon enough)? How about committing to making the event 100% all-ages? We’re looking forward to this year’s edition of Volume, but we can’t help but wonder what the year after will bring, or the year after that. Let’s hope it retains its hyper-local, non-commercialized roots while finding a good mix of local, regional, and perhaps smaller national (think indie bands with smaller fanbases) acts. There’s much to love about Spokane’s music scene, and Volume is an ode to its liveliness and authenticity.

Idea #12: Build high-quality graduate programs (in diverse fields) at local universities

Gonzaga University offers a top-notch undergraduate experience, but their graduate programs lag painfully behind. Spokane’s long-term success in becoming a destination for young people hinges partially on high-quality graduate programs. (PHOTO: Dwayne Wright)

Myth: Spokane will never have young, urban professionals because young people tend to move away to go to school. Moreover, it does not have the jobs or the lifestyle opportunities to support them.

That myth has been told more than perhaps any other to describe the demise of culture in Spokane. But here’s the thing: it’s completely and utterly false. In terms of potential to attract the type of young, urban professionals that Spokane needs to thrive, we have as much or more than any other comparable city. We have four universities located within city limits, with Gonzaga University, Eastern Washington University, and Washington State University located in the University District downtown and Whitworth University holding up the fort in north Spokane. We have a low cost of living, an abundance of affordable housing, and  We great food, excellent shopping, and outstanding cultural opportunities right downtown and four seasons of recreation within as little as a five-minute drive (or less!) Everything seems to be right for Spokane to become an “it” place.

So why hasn’t it?

The answer is probably more complicated than just the issue of education, but education plays a big role. WSU Spokane focuses almost entirely on medicine and nursing, which are great, but hardly harness the innovation and creativity of students. (And, it should be noted, that’s probably for the best. The thought of a doctor innovating a new treatment off-the-cuff and without guidance conjures up frightening possibilities.) When they aren’t educating students for the healthcare profession, they’re providing MBAs and HPAs to professionals already in stable careers. Gonzaga University, meanwhile, has gutted its graduate engineering program, choosing instead to focus almost entirely on undergraduates. It’s the same story at EWU Spokane.

In order to grow our young, urban professional population and increase the availability of high-paying, high-quality jobs, our universities must broaden their scope and offer more, better graduate programs to more people.

I’m thinking of graduate engineering. I’m thinking of entrepreneurship. I’m thinking of computer science and engineering. I’m thinking of information systems. I’m thinking of economics. (There’s an innovation and high-tech economy in Spokane that sits just bubbling under the surface, waiting to be explored!)

The sooner Spokane, or better, the State of Washington, realizes this and provides benefits to universities for adding new programs, the better. We need graduate education in order to thrive, and the status quo will not cut it. It’s time to build graduate education in Spokane.

What are your thoughts? Share your comments below, on Facebook, on Twitter, on other social media, or even amongst your friends in person. We want to hear from you!

Idea #11: Make the U.S. Pavilion a Community “Lantern”

Imagine this, but spread throughout the entire Pavilion superstructure on a new, translucent material. (PHOTO: CardCow)

Among the proposals being considered as part of the Riverfront Park Master Plan, the Parks Board and the Riverfront Park Advisory Committee are exploring the possibility of recovering the U.S. Pavilion structure in Riverfront Park and lighting it in order to make an incredibly unique architectural statement.

During Expo 74, the Pavilion was covered by a white vinyl material that easily ripped and tore, exposing the structural steel underneath. After the World’s Fair, Spokane residents chose to keep the superstructure, but the vinyl cover posed a safety hazard, and was taken down. Now, we have the opportunity to re-cover the Pavilion with a “durable, translucent material like Teflon-coated fiberglass,” (The Inlander) that didn’t exist back in the 70s.

Most interestingly, however, this recovering invites the possibility of lighting the superstructure as a sort of “lantern” for the community. A color could be chosen for typical nights, but events would offer an opportunity to show some character. Imagine the possibilities! The Pavilion could be lit in blue and green for Seahawks games, or lilac for Lilac Festival, or the color of the Bloomsday shirt for that year, or rainbow for gay pride events, or blue and red during the Zags’ March Madness run.

What do you think? Should the Pavilion be recovered and lit? Do you think that it sends a unique statement to the community? Share your thoughts in comments, tweets, posts, and responses.

Idea #10: Attract additional flights at Spokane International Airport

Spokane International Airport serves three million passengers yearly, but a majority of these passengers are routed through hubs like Seattle, Denver, and Las Vegas. (PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons)

As a blog focused on solutions, #spokanerising is committed to developing ideas to help develop Spokane into a top-tier urban-designed, thriving, vibrant city of the same class as Portland or Seattle. Whether or not you agree with his politics, this dovetails nicely with Mayor David Condon’s stated goal of transforming our city into one of “choice.”

Yesterday, KXLY reported on their Facebook page that Delta would be adding seasonal flights to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International AirportToday, we suggest that the Spokane Airport Board and the Spokane City Council prioritize adding new domestic nonstop flights at Spokane International Airport.

While the Spokane market is indeed well-served by the combination of Alaska/Horizon shuttle flights to Seattle and the vast array of international and domestic flights available from there, it would behoove local government officials to look for ways to stimulate or subsidize additional nonstop flights to in-demand locations. Having a good number of domestic flights correlates with strong local business activity and economic growth. One can imagine the possibilities. Currently, a large number of barriers prevent companies from locating in Spokane. But new flights could eliminate some of these. For example, add nonstop flights to San Jose (which is closer than Oakland or San Francisco to Silicon Valley giants like Google and Facebook) and suddenly a world of technology investment becomes more possible. Add additional flights to Houston or Atlanta (the current Delta plan only adds one weekly Saturday flight) and international destinations become more in reach.

Somewhat arbitrarily, we believe that the region’s top priorities for increased air service should include the following:

  1. The conversion of seasonal service to Minneapolis and Chicago to full-time service.
  2. The addition of service to Dallas, Houston, and/or Atlanta.
  3. The addition of service to San Jose.
  4. The exploration of additional service to Los Angeles.
  5. The exploration of service to Canadian cities like Vancouver and Edmonton.
  6. The exploration of service restoration to Reno/Tahoe.

What about you? What’s on your wishlist for destinations? Where should Spokane International Airport be focusing its energy?

Idea #9: Teen/Youth Center

This teen center was reconstructed from an old Pacific Gas & Electric facility in Berkeley, CA and built to LEED Platinum standards. (PHOTO: GreenSource Magazine)

Downtown Spokane desperately needs to solve its “disengaged youth” problem. (Naturally, others might, not-so-respectfully, call it a “street kid” problem.) It has tried playing classical music to try to deter potential congregants. It has tried using a high-pitched “mosquito” to do likewise. But perhaps deterrence is the wrong type of medicine.

Perhaps we need to take a more decisive and solutions-based approach to this problem. Perhaps we need something like a teen/youth center downtown for 13-22 year olds. Currently, there are few such facilities that cater to youth downtown. If we were able to re-route kids off of the streets and into more positive pursuits, then perhaps we could also have a strong chance at reversing the cycle of poverty that plagues many of these children. Especially if such a center offered homework assistance and skills development programs, like word processing clinics and the like. Ideally, it would bring together services from various nonprofit groups under one roof, and while it need not be as fancy as the YMCA-PG&E facility shown above, it could make a big difference and send a positive message to our city’s youth.