Over the last several decades Spokane has grown from a sleepy, idyllic riverside town to an emerging leader in the technology, energy and life science industries. In recent years the region has become a booming destination for businesses and students who are bring fresh talent and opportunities to the local business and research communities. At the core of this explosive growth sits the Spokane University District, which has emerged as a hotspot of collaboration and innovation.
Advantage Spokane’s history of engagement with the UD dates back over 20 years, long before the district even had a name. After Expo ‘74, area economic development partners and city planners had to find a creative and long term solution for the University District, which at the time was largely underutilized. Since its humble beginnings, the University District’s strategic location has made it a valuable and highly sought after area and has quickly become a hotbed for life sciences, healthcare and technology businesses.
The University District Lies at the Intersection of Innovation
Located just off of I-90 alongside the Spokane River, the Spokane University District brings together a vibrant educational and professional community that together has created a culture of innovation that has quickly drawn the attention of national and international business leaders. The University District’s success is in large part due to strategic initiatives that bring the energy, technology and life science sectors together to create a collaborative environment that fosters mutual success.
Most recently, area energy leader Avista developed the Scott Morris Center for Energy Innovation, a four story, 40,000 sq. ft. multi use building that will produce as much energy as it uses. This net zero initiative is just one example of the cutting-edge technology being developed in the UD, which city and economic officials project will serve as a replicable model that will encourage other sustainable initiatives throughout the Inland Northwest.
Spokane has a vested interest in becoming a leader in sustainability. As the city and surrounding region welcome new businesses, professionals and students from around the world, there are economic and social expectations that Spokane can accommodate an increasingly agile population.
Spokane welcomes a remote workforce with incredible talent
While many might argue that the workforce was always headed in a remote direction, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the movement in a rapid way. The West Coast has seen a mass exodus of businesses fleeing crowded and costly cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle, and arriving in more affordable and accessible cities like Spokane.
In fact, the median home price in Spokane is $219,000. Compared to San Francisco’s $1.5M and Seattle’s $761K median property values, it’s easy to see why young, enterprising professionals want to relocate to the Inland Northwest. In the midst of an ever-evolving remote workforce, it’s easier than ever for individuals and entire companies to relocate to more strategic locations. Spokane’s business climate is also quite attractive, with companies enjoying cost of business savings that are 18% below the national average.
“The real financial incentive in Spokane is that you have a much longer runway,” explains Gary Ballew, VP of Economic Development for Advantage Spokane. “The cost of doing business is much less. Companies have more time to get funded and enjoy a more competitive rate of finding talent.”
The University District brings together top talent with a commitment to Spokane
Many companies in densely populated urban centers are fighting a talent shortage. “There is a lot of competition for what [companies] are offering in those high population cities,” Gary explains. “Even though Spokane’s population is smaller, the quality of our talent is enormous, and they [workers] are incentivised to stay because it’s affordable to live here.”
Developing and retaining top talent has been a major focus for economic development partners at GSI and Advantage Spokane.
“We have a great pipeline to keep the talent coming. Our K-12 schools are highly regarded, and programs like Spokane STEM are keeping students engaged in the future of science and technology,” Gary states. “Students are moving through our education systems and have shown a commitment to staying grounded in Spokane.”
The University District is home to six higher education institutions, including two medical schools. In fact, Spokane has more medical students than Puget Sound, and companies have started to take notice.
Life sciences and healthcare in particular are enjoying accelerated growth in Spokane and the U-District. As of 2020, over 4,000 health-related businesses have set up shop in Spokane, with research and development taking a leading role in the life sciences industry.
The region brings together established healthcare networks that are immersed in clinical trials and innovative initiatives that are pushing the Spokane science and medical communities to the forefront of regional and national acclaim. Federal research dollars at area universities has nearly tripled since 2010, and local investments continue to pour in.
Why a collaborative environment matters
Not only are researchers, education leaders and businesses in the University District forging a prosperous future for the Spokane region, they’re also developing a collaborative spirit of innovation that benefits everyone. Entrepreneurial groups like Ignite NW have done an excellent job of bringing businesses together to attract fresh talent to the area.
People within the professional community are working across corporate structures to create phenomenal growth for themselves and the area at large. Through the spirit of collaboration companies and schools in UD are able to grow faster and pivot more quickly to meet the needs of the next gen workforce.
As Advantage Spokane and the University District set their sights on 2021, there are new efforts underway to roll out an awareness campaign aimed at highlighting Spokane’s position as a life science and technology leader. Area partners will focus economic development efforts in Chicago, the Los Angeles Basin, Puget Sound and The San Francisco Bay Area, with the goal of attracting large life science companies.
Gary shared his parting thoughts for companies considering Spokane as their next launch point:
“We want prospective companies to know that we have everything you need, and if we don’t, we can help find it. We have the ability to collaborate on finding supply chains, identifying funding opportunities, getting you engaged with the major players in our economy so that you can succeed. Through our network of partners and government contacts, we can help businesses tap into our strong ecosystem.”