By BECKY THOMAS
Members of the West Plains Chamber of Commerce celebrated a year of growth at its annual meeting Oct. 4 held at Northern Quest Casino and Resort in Airway Heights. Representatives from area cities also spoke at the meeting to share their “State of the City” addresses with the region’s business leaders.
Chamber membership has nearly doubled in the past two years, and revenues have grown by over 30 percent. While none of the municipal leaders in attendance could match that performance, there was some good news from the cities.
Airway Heights Mayor Patrick Rushing listed many new and ongoing projects in the city, which was founded 57 years ago to cater to service members from neighbor Fairchild Air Force Base. Rushing said that purpose still drives the community of Airway Heights.
In the past year, the city annexed land to add nearly 1,500 residents, worked with the Spokane Tribe of Indians on their STEP project property and realigned Sprague Avenue near the Kalispel Tribe’s Northern Quest Casino. Rushing said the realignment, done in partnership with the Kalispels, would solidify the city’s reputation as a good place to locate business and industry.
“This is a win-win for both the tribe and the city,” he said.
Airway Heights’ new water reclamation plant opened last fall and signified a future full of opportunity for the city, Rushing said. Reclaimed sewer water could be used for things like irrigation and home appliances to conserve the rapidly depleting aquifer beneath the city.
“We’ve already started,” he said, noting a new reclaimed water pipe along King Street that was recently completed. “This will save enough water for 40 homes for drinking water.”
Rushing also said the city was moving forward with a plan to reduce the number of people currently living in an Accident Potential Zone outside the base. The city worked with other agencies to develop a survey and needs assessment and to find land on which to offer residents new housing.
“The plan is to offer better and safer housing alternatives,” he said, noting that some homeowners have already agreed to move.
Cheney Mayor Tom Trulove shared some highlights from Cheney’s past year, including passage of renewal levies for street maintenance and EMS service, the hiring of new Police Chief John Hensley, achieving certified site status at the industrial park and continuing efforts to gain funding for the SR 904 expansion project. Cheney has seen a lot of construction activity over the past year, including building at Eastern Washington University and the Cheney School District, and new restaurants that have renovated spaces downtown.
It was not all good news for Cheney, though. Trulove said the city had suffered the loss of longtime City Councilman Mike McKeehan this year. The city is also faced with budgeting challenges that Trulove attributed in part to the state legislature cutting revenue-sharing with cities.
“That’s the biggest challenge for us,” he said. “We’re not sure how we’re going to do it if the state doesn’t return some of our money or the economy recovers.”
Spokane City Administrator Theresa Sanders, speaking in place of Mayor David Condon, said the budget is one of Spokane’s biggest challenges as well, and the city must make cuts to create a flat budget.
“We will spend no more money in 2013 than we did in 2012,” she said. “The decisions will be based on what we must do, not what we’d like to do.”
Sanders said she was glad to connect with business people on the West Plains, and hoped to seek partnerships in the region.
“We very clearly see economic opportunity on the West Plains, and that’s going to be good for our entire region,” she said.
Medical Lake City Administrator Doug Ross, speaking in place of Mayor John Higgins, said there wasn’t much new in the city.
“Mrs. Johnson did find her dogs,” Ross said.
Ross said that Medical Lake has remained pretty quiet, that crime was down and there wasn’t much for new business development. He said many people live in Medical Lake for the quiet atmosphere, while some want to bring in new things.
“It’s kind of a double-edged sword,” he said.
Ross said the city has been busy with technological advances—they recently implemented online bill pay—and working with county leaders on the Joint Land Use Agreement, which gives guidelines for development around Fairchild. While Ross stressed that Medical Lake is not opposed to the base in any way, the city does not support the current JLUS draft.
“At least not the lines drawn on the map with what appears to be crayon,” he said.
To conclude the meeting, chamber president Tyrone Barbery talked about the long-term goals of the organization. He said the chamber would continue its work in supporting West Plains businesses and economic development by providing resources to members and marketing them to the region.
The chamber has hosted many events over the past year, including Cash Mobs to boost sales at local businesses, monthly breakfast meetings, grand openings and recently, the annual Golf Scramble. Barbery said the chamber’s retention rate is 93 percent.
“We’ve done all that by being a champion for small business,” he said.
Becky Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.