To achieve economic vitality and sustained growth, Spokane needs to ensure career opportunities for our youth; either right out of high school, upon graduation from college or after a few years of working elsewhere.
To gain a better understanding underlying the rationale behind why millennials are "boomeranging" to Spokane, I recently met with four 25-plus-year-olds. Included in this group were Ryan Fisher, director of trading at Ten Capital; Travis Bowman, a financial analyst with Itron; Kate Bresnahan, an account manager with etailz; and another who asked to remain anonymous.
Each of these individuals graduated from high school in Spokane and attended college out-of-town. Three of the four worked in other cities post matriculation before returning to Spokane. Here's our discussion, in places compressed and edited for space.
How have your views of Spokane changed since you graduated from high school?
KATE: "I've come to realize how special Spokane is, with its accessibility to the outdoors, sense of community and a stress-free lifestyle."
RYAN: "I've been blown away by the sheer amount of renovation and expansion."
Did living elsewhere give you a better appreciation of Spokane?
KATE: "Yes! I never realized how beautiful, relaxed and community oriented Spokane is. People in California don't care about pie, coffee, recycling or trees."
RYAN: "Living in Seattle gave me a great frame of reference to mold my perception of Spokane. Despite all the things I liked about Seattle, I found myself more concerned with the negatives. People who complain about Spokane almost always fall within two categories: those who have never been to Spokane, or those who have never left Spokane. Without spending four years in Seattle, I would have never developed the opinion of Spokane I have now."
ANON: "Living elsewhere certainly gave me a broader perspective on Spokane's positives and negatives. The healthy work/life balance in Spokane is something I appreciate more."
Why did you choose to move back to Spokane?
TRAVIS: "Coming home allowed me to purchase my first home. In Seattle, my 700-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment cost $1,400 a month. My mortgage on my 2,000-square-foot house is less than that."
RYAN: "In Spokane, a younger professional doesn't have to live paycheck to paycheck."
Do you believe a majority or minority of your friends/peer group share your views regarding the desirability of returning to Spokane?
KATE: "An increasing number of my friends from Spokane are voicing a desire to return. They're coming to terms with the realities of our generations' amount of debt versus cost of living. It's impossible to stay in a big city and enjoy the quality of life offered in Spokane."
ANON: "Everyone loves Spokane, but the problem is finding a job. I personally know tons of people who would come back but won't because it would just be too hard on their career."
What do you like most about Spokane?
KATE: "The ability to get anywhere in 15 minutes or less, the resurgence of a community of young professionals, the four seasons, great public schools, affordable housing and the vast amount of cheerful and positive people."
ANON: "Friends, family, outdoors, four seasons and the great work/life balance."
What could the city do to make Spokane a more attractive place for millennials to stay after high school, return after college and/or "boomerang back" after a few years of working elsewhere?
KATE: "A stronger base of medium- to large-sized companies in growth industries, investment in public transportation and affordable housing."
TRAVIS: "One of the largest drawbacks for millennials starting a career in Spokane is that most job openings tend to be for people a few years out of college rather than for recent graduates."
RYAN: "The major complaint I get from peers wanting to move back is that there aren't nearly enough career paths for younger professionals."
ANON: "There just needs to be more jobs. It would be a lot easier if there were some big employers in Spokane, but there just aren't."
My take-aways from this discussion, and my experience as a co-founder of etailz and board member of StayAlfred, two Spokane businesses that hire large numbers of millennials, is that Spokane is, in fact, a highly desirable city for our young people to return to.
We just need to place greater emphasis on starting/attracting new businesses to meet the demand. ♦
Tom Simpson is an entrepreneur, angel investor and advisor to startups and other businesses in the Spokane region. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.