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Growing Spokane, Washington, sheds its sleepy city image

Growing Spokane, Washington, sheds its sleepy city image

August 12th, 2018 by Associated Press in National News

In this photo taken June 8, 2018, craft donut shop owner Amy Pruchnic, right, talks with an employee at her busy new store in downtown Spokane, Wash. The state's second-largest city is booming these days thanks to a good economy and influx of new residents. (AP Photo/Nicholas K. Geranios)

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Ramsey and Amy Pruchnic lived in the Seattle area for five years before deciding they wanted to escape the Puget Sound rat race and move closer to family on the opposite side of the state.

Now they own their own businesses and live in a 1928 farmhouse on 10 rural acres they bought just south of Spokane, near the Idaho border, where they are raising three children and 18 chickens.

"The honeymoon phase of Seattle wore off," said Amy Pruchnic, 31, who just opened a specialty doughnut shop in a hip development downtown. "Why not work in a town like Spokane?"

The Pruchnics are among a wave of new residents in Washington's second-largest city, which is experiencing a growing population thanks to more jobs and an influx of people leaving larger West Coast cities.

They include young families like the Pruchnics — many in search of cheaper housing, easier commutes, good schools and a work-life balance — and retirees with disposable income.

"We are getting both ends of the spectrum," said Todd Mielke, chief executive of Greater Spokane Incorporated, the region's chamber of commerce. The trend is also visible in other midsize western cities like Boise, Idaho, as people flee soaring housing costs up and down the West Coast.

Spokane has long been known as a sleepy place with slow growth that chugged along in the shadow of much larger and richer Seattle, 280 miles west. But the country's economic recovery has finally trickled down to the city of nearly 220,000.

Spokane doesn't have a dominant employer like Boeing or Microsoft. But it does have a lot of smaller companies, plus a growing number of good-paying jobs in government, higher education and medicine. Fairchild Air Force Base remains the region's largest single employer.

It's good news for a city that suffered during the Great Recession.

"We've exceeded the job level at the peak of the last expansion," said Grant Forsyth, chief economist for Avista Corp., the region's electric and gas utility. "We have recovered all of the lost jobs and then some."

Numbers tell the story.

The Spokane Metropolitan Statistical Area, consisting of Spokane and adjacent Stevens and Pend Oreille counties, had 232,500 jobs in 2007, just before the recession. In March the area reported 244,700 jobs.

A big mystery project proposed near the Spokane International Airport was recently revealed to be an Amazon fulfillment center. The building will be more than 2.5 million square feet, have more than 1,500 full-time employees and cost $181 million. Construction has already started.

"Amazon will be one of the largest businesses in the Spokane region," Mielke said, and it might lure others.

Meanwhile, the Spokane metro area's population grew from 470,000 in 2000 to 556,000 in 2016. Throw in the 150,000 residents of adjacent Kootenai County, Idaho, and the combined statistical area has 710,000 residents.