Cowles (pronounced “coles”) is a fourth generation family-owned enterprise that operates a portfolio of legacy companies and seeks to invest in high potential growth businesses for the long-term benefit of shareholders, customers, employees and the communities in which it operates.
The Company got its start in 1890, when William H. Cowles arrived in Spokane to be the business manager of The Spokesman, one of three local newspapers. He had been a reporter for The Chicago Tribune, where his father Alfred Cowles was the business manager. During the panic of 1893, Cowles gained ownership of and merged The Spokesman and The Review. He purchased The Chronicle in 1897, thus consolidating ownership of the region’s three largest newspapers. Other print products owned by Cowles today are the Journal of Business and Nickels Worth (a north Idaho publication).
In 1912, Cowles began investing in bonds to help construct Inland Empire Paper Co., which began operations in 1911 and became the newspapers’ main source of newsprint. Cowles acquired IEP in the 1930’s when it suffered bankruptcy. Located on the Spokane River in Millwood, the mill produces newsprint and other light-weight and specialty grades of paper for newspapers and printers throughout the United States. IEP also owns timberland in Washington and North Idaho, where it is on the forefront of sustainable forest management practices.
In 1915, William H. Cowles bought the Washington, Oregon and Idaho Farmer magazines. In 1939, the magazines partnered with Mutual of Omaha to bring insurance coverage to the rural Northwest. Today, the Northwest Farmer-Stockman and its sister company Basic Financial Solutions (created in 1998) serve the Northwest and mid-West with a wide array of health insurance and financial service products.
William H. Cowles Jr. succeeded his father and continued the expansion of the company’s scope. KHQ-AM radio was bought in 1946. The radio station expanded to FM and, in 1952, signed on as Spokane’s first television station. KHQ is one of the oldest NBC affiliates in the country. In the 1980s, the radio stations were sold. In 1999, NBC affiliates KNDO/KNDU in Yakima/ Tri-Cities were purchased. In 2013, Cowles bought a group of Montana stations. They are ABC and Fox affiliates in Missoula, Kalispell, Helena, Great Falls, Butte and Bozeman, and a NBC affiliate in Billings. The company also operates a 24/7 regional sports and weather channel that covers professional, collegiate and high school sports in Washington, Idaho and Montana.
Cowles has owned prime real estate in the Spokane Valley and in downtown Spokane since the early 1900s. The most visible holding is River Park Square, which was developed before Expo ‘74. In 1999, River Park Square reopened with a new, larger Nordstrom, a 20-screen AMC Theater and other nationally recognized retailers. The company owns several office buildings downtown and in Coeur d’Alene. The land holdings run along the Spokane River and I-90. Development on the land is primarily residential and commercial.
William H. Cowles Jr. was succeeded by his sons, William H. Cowles, 3rd and James P. Cowles. In 2001, leadership passed to fourth generation members Elizabeth A. “Betsy” Cowles and William “Stacey” Cowles. They are Chairman and President of Cowles Company.
Cowles Company has been one of the leaders in supporting community activities and area growth. The company has taken the lead in helping found regional economic development efforts, such as, the 1974 World’s Fair, Momentum and Focus 21. Hundreds of charitable organizations have received in kind or other capacity building assistance from Cowles Company, its subsidiaries, company volunteers and the Harriet Cheney Cowles Foundation.
Family Values for the Company
Stewardship - Operate a company with a conscience. Build capacity, enhance skills and provide financial resources for the benefit of our family, employees and communities.
Integrity - Take the right action. Uphold high ethical standards and quality. Support a free and independent press.
Leadership - Take the long view. Serve as a model for good business. Continue the tradition of having willing and able family talent lead the company.
Connectivity - Celebrate our diverse family. Learn from and trust each other. Proactively engage the family with the business.
Entrepreneurialism - Innovate and create in a way that anticipates and embraces change. Maintain a strong work ethic. Grow and be profitable.
Adopted by the Cowles Family Assembly, July 19, 2013
The Spokesman-Review Building, early 1900s
William H. Cowles
William H. Cowles, 3rd and James P. Cowles
Inland Empire Paper Company, circa 1920