Corporate Expansion & Relocation

Spokane invests in focused economic growth

Area economic group develops strategy

Technology centers rank as potent economic development tools.

By Ken Olson

Birds of a feather flock together. It's an instinctive survival behavior that many of today's technology-based companies are adopting as a long-term business strategy. And communities focused on attracting clusters of these companies, and the high-wage, high-skill jobs they generate, are taking note.

Strategic clustering is an emerging paradigm in the business of business today. In California's Silicon Valley, some 200 established technology-based firms, including Apple, Sun and Hewlett-Packard, are supported by a growing network of specialty suppliers of related products, services, resources and components. Washington state's Puget Sound region boasts similar clustering in a high-tech corridor that extends from aerospace leader Boeing to software giant Microsoft. And in smart, mid-sized cities like Spokane, Wash., efforts to build focused economic growth in targeted industries are developing into community-wide initiatives.

The ripple effect generated by emerging clusters can spell good news for economic development agencies -- especially in communities like Spokane, which seek to speed transformation from resource- to technology-based economies. But cluster-building strategies must recognize that high-tech companies and webs of supporting firms have needs that differ from operations that depend on heavy manufacturing equipment, require surface transportation of goods and materials, and consume large quantities of natural resources.

To encourage clustering, communities will need to demonstrate core capabilities that reflect the priorities of technology-based businesses. That means the ability to offer a skilled, accessible work force, universities and research and development centers, state-of-the-art telecommunications and air transportation infrastructure, and an appealing quality of life.

A skilled work force

High-tech companies have fast become the darlings of economic developers across the nation. And why not? These businesses rarely generate pollution or consume natural resources, and they pay better than average wages. But to get and keep these sought-after companies, communities must be able to offer a flexible, productive work force with high-level technical skills.

That means no refugees from McJobs with little training beyond high school, and maybe not even holders of four-year college degrees in non-technical areas of study. What these businesses are looking for are motivated technicians with two-year degrees and skills-based certificates, strong communications and problem-solving capabilities, and on-the-job-experience.

Many communities are finding the most efficient way to build a world-class work force is to grow and train one at home. In Spokane, progressive regional school-to-work education initiatives are helping local young people build certified technical and basic skills and gain valuable job experience. These and other skills-based training courses are becoming community-wide priorities here and in other areas seeking to attract and retain technology companies.

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