Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Sunday, April 06, 2008

"Some growth is better than none"

One more time, with emphasis. There is no "urban sprawl" on the Palouse. There is no "runaway growth" on the Palouse. The 2006-2007 population data just released from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that the Pullman and Moscow micropolitan areas are growing the slowest of any urban area in Washington and Idaho respectively, two very fast-growing states.

Our problem is just the opposite of "sprawl." We cannot "afford to be choosy" as some advocate. We cannot allow unproven concerns over a poorly understood water source be the nails in the coffins of our two towns. We cannot let the Palouse become a social engineering laboratory for academics and students who will be somewhere else in five or ten years. Instead, we had better do everything we can to encourage growth and roll out the red carpet to any business that wants to locate here. As UI prof Jeff Harkins always says, towns grow or they die. This is the conclusion the Daily News editorial board reached in a column published in last Thursday's edition:
Growth has long been a controversial topic in Moscow and Pullman.

Some want it at any expense, others would like the status quo maintained in perpetuity.

We think the correct approach is somewhere in the middle, and that's why recently released statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau are cause for concern.

The Moscow and Pullman "micropolitan" areas - urban cores of 10,000-50,000 people and the surrounding counties - grew 0.5 percent and 1.2 percent, respectively, from mid-2006 to mid-2007.

That's not far from negative 0.5 percent and 1.2 percent, and that's what is most troubling.

Negative growth would cause a downturn in the local economy, resulting in the loss of jobs and local businesses and forcing some residents to leave the area in search of other opportunities.

Stagnation might produce similar results considering the basic cost of living - gas, groceries, energy - is only going to rise. Money to offset that rise is needed in the form of new jobs and residents.

Further complicating matters is declining enrollment at the University of Idaho. There currently are 9,980 students enrolled at the UI's Moscow campus, down 702 students from fall 2006.

UI economist Steve Peterson said there's a direct correlation between the number of students and the number of jobs in the area.

"If you're down 1,000 students, you can figure a loss between 500 and 1,000 jobs anywhere in the region," he said.

Imagine what would happen if Washington State University saw a similar decrease in enrollment.

A number of area business leaders and elected officials are encouraging growth, and residents need to get on board if they want their children and grandchildren to be able to live and work on the Palouse when they grow up, graduate and enter the work force.

The speed and direction in which the area expands might not agreeable to everyone, but growth at any pace is a far cry better than no growth at all.

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