Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Border Business Conference
October 27, 1999
Thanks, Pete, for that kind introduction. It’s great to be here with Minister Mike Farnworth at the Border Business Conference. I’d also like to thank Michael Brennan and the Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce & Industry for sponsoring this event. I’d especially like to thank Anthony Moceri, Dan Russmussen, Abby George, and Lisa Beckhusen for being here. Here we have four future business leaders of America from Mount Baker High School. Could you all stand up? Let’s give them a round of applause. And let’s keep them in mind during our discussion today. Because everything we do today will affect their futures and the futures of their classmates.
The future certainly looks bright for Whatcom County! Through efforts led by the Bellingham/Whatcom Economic Development Council, almost two dozen new high-tech firms have moved to Whatcom County within the last 2 years. Cymbolic Sciences, VoiceStream Wireless, AT&T, Kulshan.com, Siscosoft, OS Data Centers, Planetary Data Systems. . . the list goes on and on. Congratulations! This is exactly what I like to see happening in our rural communities.
Later this morning I’m going to tour the new VoiceStream facility with Evan Fein and other executives. This is a real win for Whatcom County. VoiceStream’s new facility will provide 450 new jobs by March of 1999, and there are projections for further expansion.
Whatcom County is setting an example for other Washington counties, because as your economy expands, you are also keeping a close eye on protecting the environment. In fact, Whatcom County just won our Quarterly Service and Quality Improvement Award for the Whatcom Watersheds Project. Over the last two years, the Whatcom Watershed Project has been amazingly successful in restoring and protecting rivers, lakes, streams and groundwater resources in Whatcom County. And I believe the Watershed Project was so successful because businesses and community members worked together towards a common goal.
Lately, I’ve been speaking with many diverse groups—from educators to business leaders to those dedicated to protecting our environment—and time and time again, no matter what we are discussing, one fact remains constant. As we barrel into the 21st century it’s becoming strikingly clear that the old way of doing things just isn’t going to ensure our prosperity in the new millennium. All facets of society and all levels of government must learn to work together to solve our problems.
Last month I spoke at the Spokane Area Chamber of Commerce along with Governor Racicot of Montana about approaching issues as a region instead of as individual states. And last week I went to the Lower Columbia River Estuary Signing Ceremony to honor the work community members and officials in Washington and Oregon are doing together to keep the Lower Columbia and its estuary clean and healthy. And tomorrow I’ll be in Spokane speaking to a group called PARTNERS who are committed to weaving a partnership between businesses and schools. Every where I turn, I see that if people in all facets of society and in all regions work together towards a common goal, so much more gets accomplished.
My administration has started a Workforce Training Program wherein businesses and community and technical colleges work together to determine what skills are necessary to fill the high-tech jobs of the future, and then to design detailed curricula that meet the needs of dozens of specific industries. We have also started the Washington Reading Corps wherein schools, community members, and businesses are working together to tutor struggling students in reading. The results have been just incredible.
And today we join forces with Minister Mike Farnworth and British Columbia to work towards our common goal of improving the movement of people and freight across the border between Washington and British Columbia. Delays at the border are a major impediment to international trade, and international trade is paramount to our continued prosperity, especially with our state’s largest trading partner. A border should not be a bottleneck or a dam. We must have fluid and safe borders.
I commend the steps you have taken to deal with border issues. The International Mobility Transportation Corridor Group is doing great work by calling federal, state and local governments to work together. And now we have created the BC-Washington Task Force to coordinate cross-border initiatives related to economic and environmental issues that affect both BC and the state of Washington. Task Force Chairs Kathy Kreiter and former Premier Mike Harcourt are here with us today. They’ve been meeting since May, refining the scope of the work in front of us. Let’s give Kathy Kreiter and former Premier Harcourt a hand for all of the work they’ve done so far.
This task force will give us an opportunity to get specific issues on the table, and get new powerful voices into discussion with federal officials. We have a lot of work ahead of us. But as long as we work together towards common goals we should be able to accomplish our mission.
The death of Trooper Jim Saunders earlier this month shook us all up. It was a senseless and tragic death, and it could have been avoided. But the federal government has been transferring our border agents—at a rate of 2 to 3 agents a month—and repositioning them on the U.S./Mexico border. This has to stop. We need to have the appropriate number of federal employees necessary to move people and goods across the border. And these federal employees need to be adequately trained. And every day that passes that we don’t have enough border agents on duty is a day that we are putting citizens’ lives at risk. And that’s unacceptable.
And once our border is adequately staffed, we need to make sure the movement of people and goods across the border is fluid and continuous! We need to support the International Mobility & Trade Corridor Improvement Project and expedite the pre-clearance program. We also need to connect gateways and trade corridors! We need to get a high-speed train running from Seattle to Vancouver and develop the Cascadia Inland Corridor.
And as we work to relieve the border bottleneck and develop a robust transportation infrastructure, we must also work together, Washington and BC, to promote tourism—the “two nation vacation.” Attorney Greg Boos has been extremely active in helping to eliminate the Section 110 problem, and I commend his efforts. Section 110 of the 1996 US Immigration Act would require Canadians crossing the border to have entry and exit documents. This would monumentally impede the movement of people across the border. This, of course, is something we don’t need. And we also can’t afford to have the R49 funding dedicated to Amtrak’s second daily round trip evaporate, or the R49 funds dedicated to expanding 543 from 2 to 5 lanes—a project critical to the movement of freight. And R49 funding will evaporate if I-695 passes. Please support me in opposing 695.
And as we improve the movement of people and goods across our borders, we need to make sure that Whatcom County remains prosperous—that businesses continue to find Whatcom County not only naturally beautiful, but financially attractive as well.
I’ve pressed hard on the permitting issues in Bellingham Bay, to ensure that existing companies can continue to prosper and expand while protecting the environment. I also pushed a rural economic development package through the Legislature which provides some excellent tools for building the infrastructure—roads, sewers, water systems—that Whatcom County needs to stimulate economic diversification. We are also providing tax incentives for technology-based businesses that locate in rural areas, and we have redefined the concept of “infrastructure” to include telecommunications, and allow cities to keep more of the money they would otherwise send to Olympia. We’ve added $8 million in CERB funding that can now be used to install telecommunications infrastructure. Because we know that a robust telecommunications infrastructure is vital to the economic prosperity of Whatcom County.
You all know that education is my number one priority, and it took a lot of restraint, today, for me to talk so much about borders and economic development. So let me say that it’s imperative that we continue to work towards reforming and improving our education system. Minister Mike Farnworth’s here and I’m sure you want to hear from him, too. So please just remember: the work we are doing to improve transportation, tourism, and border crossings—it won’t add up to anything if our children aren’t smart enough to keep up the work we’ve started. And it won’t matter that VoiceStream, and 3rd Eye, and Attachmate are moving in and generating new family-wage jobs if our children aren’t smart enough to fill the next round of job openings.
Education is society’s great equalizer, and the economy’s great energizer. Please keep education as your number one priority. And keep up the great work in helping to make Washington a better place to live, to work, and to raise a family. Thank you very much.