May 24th, 2019
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The Idea (1994)
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10/31/2004 - Expo Closing Opened Door to Technology Economy

It was thirty years ago, nearly to the day, that Expo '74 closed. It had been opened six months earlier by then President, Richard Nixon. For a summer, Spokane had real cultural diversity with many different languages heard on the street daily. The entertainment in the newly completed opera house was world class. Even the liquor stores had an amazing variety of "strange" liquors. But the economic development story started much earlier.

1974: The citizens of Spokane had voted down a bond issue to finance the basic infrastructure of the Expo fair grounds, but some with greater vision soldiered on. After much negotiation with the railroad companies, hundreds of tons of rails were removed from around the river from the Summit properties to the Riverwalk area. Ugly trestles were removed; two railroad stations were razed, the river polluting laundry plant relocated, and the whole area opened up. The plan was to earn money from a successful fair, and then to turn the area into a beautiful river front park.

City leaders must have noticed the symbolic leaving behind of the reliance on goods shipped by rail. They wanted enhanced quality of life based around their "fresh new environment," more jobs, more prosperity --- but there was no specific plan. Those with vision had further dreams, but did they envision the future University District, the Riverpoint Campus, the SpokaneHotZonesm, VPnet, the Terabyte Triangle? The removal of all those railroads turned the downtown core from a rectangle to a triangle by opening access to the north bank of the river.

Only large institutions and technology pioneers had computers. Many machines were still programmed with key punch cards. The concept of the personal computer on every desktop was the stuff of science fiction novels.

1984: Eastern Washington University launched its computer science department including two degree programs in downtown Spokane --- Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Systems, and Master of Science in Computer Science. Courses were taught in the then Bon Marche building. Topics ranged from beginning programming to advanced graduate classes.

The educational opportunity this provided raised prospects of technology jobs and companies in information technology (IT). Most of the students were aspiring working adults; seeking new or better careers in IT.

1994: In January 1994, at SIRTI's behest, a broadly representative group representing all locally operating universities and colleges, the public library system, US West (now Qwest), public utility Washington Water Power (now Avista) network design engineers, network design companies, and network installation companies met to prepare a strategic communications plan for the metropolitan area. This was the SIRTI Telecommunications Committee (STC).

By the end of the first quarter of 1994, the committee submitted the following strategic recommendations.
Focus Spokane's future on an Optical Fiber Infrastructure
Use a mix of optical fiber models --- Dark and Lit
Couple Communications Initiatives To Service Sectors
The two largest health care providers formed a new not-for-profit corporation called Inland Northwest Health Services to improve patient health care delivery for a better price. Spokane School District 81 had completed a technology study and had implemented a strategic plan promoting efficiency, and calling for facilities and technology to support and strengthen the educational program. The Inland Northwest Community Access Network (TINCAN) was formed at Eastern Washington University. Network designers at a local utility, Washington Water Power (now Avista), began the design of an optical fiber network for the Spokane Metropolitan area and the creation of a business plan for its subsequent deployment. All of these strategic efforts were brought to the attention of the STC through its members. A formal plan for an optical fiber fabric for city development was in place.

2004: Today, the optical fiber fabric and wireless connectivity in the greater Spokane area vastly exceeds the rails of yesteryear. Dark fiber leases are available through Columbia Fiber Solutions --- a capability rarely found even in the largest cities. VPnet is up and running. SpokaneHotZonesm , a one hundred block downtown area of newly deployed wireless connectivity for Electronic Municipal Operations Support (EMOS) and for consumer access to information, is being used daily.

Spokane was named one of seven most "intelligent communities" in the world for 2003 by the New York City based Intelligent Community Forum, a project of the World Teleport Association. Spokane was designated, in 2004, one of ten All America Cities (out of 600) by the National Civic League -- an honor that Spokane had last received in 1974.

Billie Moreland
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