Like Gerard Connelly, B.J. Swanson cannot be that ignorant of economics and be the vice president of a bank. I'd like to think that all the nonsense she expresses in this Lewiston Tribune article from yesterday is just claptrap for the masses to cover her left-wing snobbery. But nevertheless, let's hang her with her own words, shall we?
"The economy on the Palouse is stagnant?" The article states that between 1997 and 2007, the number of high-tech jobs increased from 322 to 460 in Latah County. That represents about 43% growth in 10 years. Not spectacular, but not exactly stagnant either.
Whitman County now has 1,363 high-tech, including 1,100 at SEL, which had 230 employees in 1997. That means the growth of jobs at SEL has been 380% over 10 years. That is spectacular sustained employment growth probably unequaled anywhere in the U.S., much less a rural county.
Has other growth in Whitman County kept pace? Swanson says that "each high-tech employee supports as many as four other jobs." So the growth at SEL alone should have created 3,480 new retail/service jobs on the Palouse, including about 1,392 in Whitman County (some 40% of new SEL employees live in Pullman/Whitman County.) There has not been anything like that amount of retail/service jobs created here in the last 10 years. The only thing "stagnant" in Whitman County is the retail sector.
According to the Washington Employment Security Department, there were 1,227 retail trade jobs in Whitman County in January 2008. That's DOWN from January 2000 when it was 1,250. You can see why retailers are so interested in the Palouse, particularly our side of the border. Can't Swanson and the Tribune reporter runs these numbers themselves and see the need for Wal-Mart and other retail? Exactly why is B.J. Swanson being allowed to speak for Pullman and Whitman County anyway? It's very biased reporting.
In what way does the effort, in Whitman County anyway, to capture these dollars by building a Wal-Mart believes keep us from "realizing more of our potential" in the high-tech sector? It's just the opposite. I mean if people make $50,000 a year, they're going to want to spend it somewhere, right? Trust me, if we had more retail amenities, SEL and other companies would have an easier time attracting potential employees. Swanson obviously forgets Ed Schweitzer is a big supporter of a Pullman Wal-Mart.
Yet liberal fascist Swanson claims that Wal-Mart is a threat because every time a new store or restaurant opens, another closes. Really? Is that why we have two Safeways, two Rite-Aids, two Les Schwabs, two Radio Shacks, two Subways, two Pita Pits, two Pizza Huts, four McDonald's, two Arby's and untold Starbucks in Pullman and Moscow? What closed in Moscow when Old Navy and Bed Bath and Beyond opened? Did Staples close when Office Depot opened? Did Snap Fitness and Absolute Fitness close when the Pullman Athletic Club opened? I would sure hate to ask Swanson for a business loan with a ridiculous zero-sum attitude like that.
High-tech hits its stride
MOSCOW - A building under construction at the east edge of Alturas Technology Park is one of the most tangible signs of the slow but steady growth of the high-tech sector on the Palouse.
The 10,000-square-foot building will house Alturas Analytics and Anatech Labs, which have outgrown their 7,200-square-foot space at the park in Moscow.
Anatech Labs began in 1992, doing water tests and other environmental work. About eight years ago its founders brought in a new partner and diversified into doing pharmaceutical testing under the name of Alturas Analytics.
Others are thriving too.
Economic Modeling Specialists is on the verge of outgrowing its leased space in Alturas. And EcoAnalysts is preparing to more than triple its office space with a move from downtown Moscow to Eastside Marketplace (see related stories), where it will be near another home-grown, high-tech Palouse venture, First Step Internet.
It's the kind of economic development that represents the brightest hope for Moscow and Pullman, says B.J. Swanson, commercial loan officer and vice president of AmericanWest Bank. "That's our quickest and easiest way to provide good-paying jobs."
Between 1997 and 2007, the number of high-tech jobs increased from 322 to 460 in Latah County, while Whitman County now has 1,363. The growth there reflects that of Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, which in 1997 had 230 employees and now has 1,100 in Pullman, making it the second-largest manufacturer in the region.
Swanson believes more of the potential in the sector could be realized if members of the community focused on high-tech job growth more and worried less about real estate development and where Wal-Mart might locate.
The kinds of jobs the high-tech sector provides would strengthen weak spots in the economy at a time when it's unlikely significant expansion will occur at the universities, Swanson says.
Part of the reason Wal-Mart is such a threat is the economy on the Palouse is stagnant, Swanson says. Every time a new store opens, another closes. The same pattern happens with restaurants.
Each high-tech employee supports as many as four other jobs because the wages are so high and much of the revenue the companies generate comes from out of state, Swanson says.
The average pay of the 150 jobs at Alturas, where many of Moscow's high-tech businesses are located, is $50,000 a year, Swanson says.
The proximity to universities has made the success possible. Almost every high-tech company has some link to the universities, Swanson says.
The founder of SEL earned his doctorate from Washington State University. Basic research at the universities formed the foundation of other companies.
Once companies are up and running, the universities and Lewis-Clark State College provide a steady source of qualified applicants for the internships and jobs they have, Swanson says.
The availability of internships on the Palouse helps the schools because their students get on-the-job training and take classes in the same semester since they're not having to leave the area, Swanson says.
"It's our future if you look at our base and the assets the universities bring."