Everything from Sprague Avenue landscaping to moving the municipal permit center into City Hall – all in the name of getting cash registers to ring -- got the once-over by the Spokane Valley City Council on Tuesday night.
In the end, the council agreed it was time to start taking some steps to make ongoing economic development efforts – just like road improvements or public safety – a bigger part of city business.
In 2012, $75,000 will be set aside in the city budget specifically for enticing and keeping business in Spokane Valley. That money will be separate from the $50,000 to $60,000 in funds that are annually given to groups like Greater Spokane Inc. or the Greater Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce who do similar work.
The idea, said City Manager Mike Jackson, is to cooperate with those groups, not duplicate their efforts.
“We have a lot of partners in this area,” Jackson said.
Last month, the area of economic development received scrutiny during a daylong council retreat session at CenterPlace. With only marginal increases in sales tax revenue expected in 2012 -- $16.1 million to $16.2 million – and property taxes holding steady, council members directed staff help them try to figure out new ways to woo new businesses and keep existing ones.
While the city is still some months away from formalizing a long-term economic development plan for the city, Jackson did tell council members Tuesday that the initial steps toward realizing that goal can be accomplished now.
First, he said, it’s important for council members – and the city at large – to realize what good things are happening. It is easy to simply focus on the empty storefronts along Sprague Avenue, he said, rather than look at the development along Sullivan Road or in the Mirabeau Park areas, for example.
“If you look at it glass half full rather than half empty, there’s quite a bit of economic development out there,” Jackson said.
Also, no state income tax, an excellent talent pool, easy commute and positive perception area have all be reasons cited by Greater Spokane Inc. to locate a business in Spokane Valley over North Idaho.
On the flipside, however, Jackson said that studies have shown that – with few exceptions – tax incentives will not effectively influence business location decisions. Instead, companies look for ease in transporting goods, labor quality and available markets when considering a new location.
“The best way for government to influence business location is to create and sustain quality communities,” Jackson said.
To do that, cities can work on what they do best: creating quality parks and maintaining its roads. To that end, the recent need to put weight restrictions on the Sullivan Road Bridge has now created a situation where it has become one of the city’s most-needed infrastructure projects not only for commuters but for the truck traffic that relies on that arterial over the Spokane River.
“It just goes to show how these projects can often move to the top of the priority list,” Jackson said. The Sullivan Road Bridge is scheduled to be replaced next year, but funding sources are still being looked at by the city.
In order to begin sprucing up Sprague Avenue, the council has expressed its support for $630,000 in upgrades to swales from Thierman to Park roads as a positive first step.
The city is also continuously looking to improve its permitting process and is planning to move its permit center from across the parking lot into City Hall proper at 11707 E. Sprague. In May, commercial building permit activity was up 33 percent over the same period in 2010. In the city of Spokane, permits were up 21 percent in that same period.
Council Member Dean Grafos said the city needs to reach out to the community more to “tell our story” about the good things happening in Spokane Valley. In that vein, colleague Chuck Hafner said, “We need to toot our own horn, nobody is going to do it for us.”
Council Member Arne Woodard agreed, saying he had talked to a Sprague Avenue businessman who didn’t know the city has a balanced budget.
“They thought we were just struggling along,” he said.