Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

My, How Times Have Changed

A Daily Evergreen article titled "Population slowly rising in Pullman", dated November 27, 2001, featured an interview with Pullman Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Fritz Hughes:
Fritz Hughes of the Pullman Chamber of Commerce said the main reasons for the population increase are WSU and the agricultural community around Pullman.

“People who are looking to be successful in the agricultural industry can find a good niche for that in Pullman,” he said. “That is where you will find people having the most success in business or their careers.”

He added, “And of course, the university has a large part to do with the town’s population and the increase in population over the last few years.”

However, one thing that does not attract people to Pullman is the prospect of running certain types of businesses, Hughes said.

Because of the difference in tax laws in Washington and Idaho, businesses can save thousands of dollars by being located in Moscow instead of Pullman.

You aren’t going to see many Wal-Marts or huge marketing type businesses in Pullman,” Hughes said. “We just don’t have enough people or get enough foot traffic for those kinds of businesses.”
Compare this to an interview with Mr. Hughes in an Evergreen article published February 16 of this year:
“The last five years, especially recently, has been by far the most growth I have seen since I’ve been here,” said Fritz Hughes, the executive director of the Pullman Chamber of Commerce and resident of Pullman since 1976. “And we’re just starting to kick into high gear.”

There’s some serious bank to be made in Pullman, and the good thing is that most of it is going to stay in Pullman.

“The key is that local people are investing in the community, which means a lot of the dollars stay in Pullman,” Hughes said.
As I have stated previously, Pullman's demographics are not very attractive to businesses looking to locate here.

You can read more about this growth and the problems we have faced here.

So what has changed in the last 5 years? We can't do much about the geographic limitations, but our demographics are changing. For one thing, Pullman is no longer just a "company town", completely dependent on WSU.

At a press conference in February of this year, Schweitzer Engineering Labs (SEL) announced plans to hire 200 more employees this year, 125 of which will work in Pullman, bringing the company’s total to 1,150 by the end of the year. SEL has added at least 100 or more new employees every year since 1999, many of whom take up residence in Pullman. SEL is going to construct a new 22,000 square-foot research and development building and a 7,200 square-foot facilities maintenance building. They are also attempting to develop 92 acres next to their location in the Port of Whitman Industrial Park for single- and multi-family housing, restaurants, retail stores, a hotel and convention center.

It is not inconceivable, with the way Schweitzer Engineering is growing (it has doubled in size in the last 4 years), that it will have more employees than the university in 20 or 30 years. In an article in the Puget Sound Business Journal, SEL is reported to be the among the seven largest suppliers in the billion-dollar international electrical relay market, and poised for even greater expansion into other markets.

When you combine that with the WSU biotechnology project, Pullman could very easily become the "Silicon Wheatfield", a center of high-tech industry with high-paying, high benefit jobs to rival anything on the west side of the state.

But before we can get there, the infrastructure has to be in place. In addition to roads, schools, and housing, there also has to be places for people to shop. And not just in Moscow. If Pullman is to grow, we need to keep our tax revenue local.

Wal-Mart is the first step in that process. Wal-Mart is big enough to take the risk of coming to Pullman. They can afford to bank on the promise of what is to come, not what has been.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but there are many students and faculty at WSU who really don't know what is going on in Pullman. They are here for a few years, in a very insular academic environment, and then they move on down the road.

The nattering nabobs of negativism at PARD have had their say. It is time for Pullman to move on.

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