Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Monday, August 28, 2006

Knowledge Corridor Not Only an Old Idea, It's a Bad Idea

Murf Raquet wrote the following in a Daily News editorial last Thursday:
Knowledge Corridor is not new concept

The long-awaited finale of the NewCities project is history — at least the conceptual part. After months of research, public input and $20,000 in taxpayer money, the Kentucky-based organization presented its best recommendations for better communication, city planning and economic development to Moscow officials and residents Tuesday.

The result is the Palouse Knowledge Corridor, which takes advantage of two research institutions located eight miles apart. The concept also calls for a pooling of resources to facilitate economic development.

Go with your strengths — a great concept. After all, Washington State University and the University of Idaho are the two largest nonagricultural industries on the Palouse, as well as the largest employers.

It’s not a new idea — just a restating of a concept that’s removed from the closet and dusted off every few years.

The last time it surfaced was in 1998, when the Moscow and Pullman chambers of commerce commissioned a study on how best to market the Palouse. The result — U-Cities: Where Minds Meet — also played on the presence of the universities.

The study was a strategic marketing plan for attracting conferences and group events to the universities and making the Palouse a destination. The thought was, with more people coming to the Palouse for specific reasons, the greater the chances some may choose to relocate their families or businesses here. Economic growth was the desired result of the U-Cities idea.

Not long after the plan was presented to the two chambers the study was shelved.

Eight years later, an idea with remarkably similar goals using the same players is on the table.

For the sake of those who are tired of spending money for studies and consultants, we hope the Knowledge Corridor idea is given more than lip service.

Ideas vary widely on how to achieve economic growth on the Palouse. Some want it slow and steady. Others want to see rapid development. Few want to see the region stagnate.

Growth has to be a compromise, there’s too much to lose. Choosing the right path won’t be easy, but including the two universities in the process makes good sense.

Give it a shot. If nothing else, it will be a good exercise in cross-border cooperation, something sorely needed in recent months. We’re all in this together, good choices are a must.
Compare this with Gordon Forgey's recent editorial. No amount of study, sloganeering, or buzzwords is going to create economic development on the Palouse. That will take private enterprise. Growth is not a "compromise" either. It will happen as entrepreneurs and developers invest their hard-earned money, not because some people want things to go a certain way. Public hearings and opinion have never built anything.

Putting all your eggs in the higher education basket is a bad idea for both Moscow and Pullman. Both U of I and WSU have struggled in recent years with tight budgets, declining enrollments, and most recently declining rankings in national magazines. Any business that depends on the whims of government funding is going to inevitably experience booms and busts.

A better option for Moscow and Pullman is to clear the regulatory decks and make the Palouse a more friendly place to do business.

This is where cooperation between Moscow and Pullman/Whitman County is going to fall apart. Pullman and Whitman County governments are pursuing a variety of economic opportunities, including large-scale retail like a Wal-Mart Supercenter and a strip mall in the corridor. Moscow, meanwhile, seems determined to be the Berkeley of the Gem State, with its "big box" and "living wage" ordinances. What's next? Declaring Moscow a "nuclear free zone"?

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