September 12, 2013 | Vol. 117 -- No. 21

Spokane County Council of Governments highlights regional activity

Last Friday, Sept. 6, government representatives and business leaders met at the annual Council of Governments meeting at the Spokane Interstate Fairgrounds, bringing forward some of the larger issues affecting the Inland Northwest.

First off was Fairchild Air Force Base’s 92nd Wing Commander Brian Newberry, who focused on its connections with the county. Those connections have helped especially in the last year as budget sequestration made cuts to the base.

“Sequester isn’t going away anytime soon,” he said, noting that the base would continue to find ways to operate efficiently by going deeper into its budget.

Last year, the base delivered 170 million pounds of fuel to planes flying on their mission. Newberry said that’s equivalent of driving 13,500 times around the world in a regular car.

The commander also addressed the hot topic of potential conflicts in Syria, noting the base would be a part of any action taken in the country, in regards to refueling.

“The military comes and goes, but you stay,” he said to the community representatives and business leaders gathered at the meeting.

Newberry also said that the popular airshow SkyFest is due to return, although an official date hasn’t yet been set. Initially planned to take place this year, plans were put on hold due to sequestration cuts. Tentative plans have been set for the show to go on in 2015, but that could shift up, depending on how things go.

“I owe you all an airshow,” he said.

While budget restrictions postponed the air show, Newberry pointed out that the base was working with Airway Heights on a potential community center, and developing a flight school.

Wayne Brokaw, executive director of Inland Northwest AGC, said lobbying for funding on the North-South corridor was proceeding smoothly, and all of the transportation projects in the region pointed to Spokane’s mobility.

He specifically mentioned state routes 904 and 902 through Cheney and Medical Lake, noting the SR 902 interchange was of particular interest for improvement to help development of aerospace industries leading to an industrial park area near the airport. Similarly, he mentioned SR 902 was needed to highlight Cheney’s industrial park.

Mike McDowell, board member with the Spokane Public Facilities District, said heavy work was already underway at the convention center site along the Spokane River near Division Street. The old Shenanigan’s restaurant has been completely removed and construction work is ready to begin rehabilitating the shoreline and Centennial Trail.

“We’re within 90 percent of getting the shoreline and trail plan approved,” he said.

McDowell said the trail hasn’t received much work since its initial placement in the 1970s, and thorny blackberry bushes have taken over the shoreline along the river. There are plans to incorporate a canoe and kayak launch underneath the Division Street bridge, as well as some type of connection to the university district across the river.

Rich Hadley, President and CEO of Greater Spokane Incorporated, highlighted the economic growth in Spokane over the last few years since the recession really hit the region. Among the highlights from his presentation include areas where Spokane soared over other regions:

- Sixth best commute time in the nation,

- Sixth lowest natural disaster rate,

- 6 percent lower cost of living than the national average,

- 90 percent of companies have 50 or fewer employees.

Hadley said there were three large companies looking at the West Plains region, with an announcement coming in 3-4 months. Much of the work was done ahead of time at certified sites, where everything is provided for companies to move in and start operating as soon as possible.

“Our certified sites are paying off,” he said. “They just start rolling off one another.”

James Eik can be reached at james@cheneyfreepress.com.

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