Editorial: New Amazon center will bring mixed effects to region

If Spokane County keeps up with development over next few years, Amazon will be an asset overall

By The Easterner, Editorial Board

The future is here.

Spokane, Airway Heights and Cheney will undergo a drastic economic change by the end of 2019.

A lot of the economic change began when Caterpillar arrived on the borders of Spokane. With the new Amazon fulfillment center under construction, Spokane County will see a lot of economic growth. Cheney will be impacted both positively and negatively.

Spokane, let alone, Cheney, has not seen this kind of economic success in recent history. Amazon will provide a multitude of jobs when it is finished in late 2019.

“If you take them at their word of 1500 workers initially going up to 3000, that’s a nice addition to the number of people employed in the county,” Executive Director of EWU’s Institute for Public Policy & Economic Analysis Patrick Jones said. “I don’t know whether it’s going to make a huge dent in the overall economy measured by money or income.”

Amazon will be close to the airport, I-90 and the Burlington Northern Railroad. This means that traffic will increase, there will be an influx of Amazon workers and in result, the cost of living is likely to go up. Efficient and safe infrastructure needs to be built rapidly in the next five to 10 years or Spokane will not be able to keep up with the economic boom from the Amazon development.

“There will be more housing constructed,” EWU alumna and Spokane County Public Works Information and Outreach manager Martha Lou Wheatley-Billeter said in a phone interview. “There will be more businesses.”

The question is whether or not this development will impact the students and how it will impact the community.

“There could be a higher demand for housing in Cheney because it is so close,” Jones said. “So if there is a higher demand for housing then people are going to likely pay more rent unless there is a lot more homes or apartments being built.”

The Amazon fulfillment center may not be such a bad thing besides an increase in living costs. The development will take some time for Spokane and its surrounding cities to get used to.

“That happens when you have got a very strong economy,” Jones said. “Living situations take a while to adjust.”

Cheney might be getting the short end of the stick in this development. The city that will most likely see a lot of economic growth is Airway Heights. With retail and housing getting more revenue from the traffic going in and out, Airway Heights will benefit exponentially.

Unless Cheney catches up soon in retail distribution, it might suffer when Amazon comes to West Plains.

“Amazon is a retailer, so the tendency if you work for a big retailer is you’re going to buy in house,” Jones said. “I think it could very well be the case that some of the existing retailers like the big Walmart store out there could benefit. The convenience stores and the gasoline stations—I’m sure they’ll all benefit so to that degree there is going to be some taxable revenue,” Jones said.

Cheney does not have enough retail to support this sort of influx of population and economy with only three grocery stores and very little revenue in restaurant and entertainment income.

From an economic standpoint, Cheney might need to catch up as quickly as possible when Amazon is finished in about a year. On a post-graduate professional standpoint, Amazon might be just what the West Plains needs for the students of EWU.

“There is probably going to be a lot of opportunities for Eastern types,” Chair of Department of Economics and professor Dr. Bunting said. “As interns, part-timers, fill-ins. And not just necessarily workers on the floor but people who have skills […] You could be an hourly or be a contractor.”

As long as Spokane County keeps up with the retail and infrastructure in the next few years, Amazon will be more of an asset than a hindrance.

Cheney will have to start thinking about adding more income for tax revenue and increase housing and apartment developments, but the students and community of EWU will be just fine.