Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Senator Murray's "Getting Connected" Conference
June 1, 2000
Thank you, Senator Murray, for that kind introduction, and for hosting this important event.
Washington as a whole is enjoying unprecedented prosperity. Statewide, unemployment is lower than it's been in decades. Statewide, incomes are rising. Statewide, our economy is stronger.
Much of that current prosperity is due to the hundreds of successful high technology companies that call Washington home. High tech is our fastest growing industry. High tech directly employs more than 11 percent of the workforce. And each technology job creates two and a half other jobs. So the high tech arena employs more than a third of our Washington workers. And things are not slowing down.
Our economy is stronger, as well, because of the efficiencies technology has brought. Restaurants, hotels, farms, snowboarder stores - our businesses that utilize technology are more efficient. Make no mistake about it - technology is driving our economic prosperity.
But more than 90 percent of our technology workforce is in the central Puget Sound area. What about the rest of the state? Of all states Washington has one of the greatest disparities of personal income between urban and rural areas. The per capita income in some of our rural counties is half that of our urban counties.
And there are some tens of thousands of newly dislocated workers each year who lack high-tech skills and are losing ground economically. Hundreds of thousands of the workers in our state are working in jobs that pay less than a living wage.
This is what we mean when we talk about the "digital divide." When I look down the road ten to fifteen years, my biggest concern is that the divide will get bigger, not better. As Governor, I cannot and will not let that happen.
Our challenge is this: to give our rural communities the opportunity to share in the prosperity of the global, 21st century information-age economy to get them connected.
Business leaders I talk to across the state, tell me they know there are real benefits to locating in smaller communities: stable workforce, lower real estate prices, cleaner air, less traffic and the finest recreational opportunities in the nation.
But many companies fear that rural areas don't have the infrastructure they need to grow and prosper. And I'm not talking about just roads, sewers and electricity. They need access to life-long education and training opportunities. Workers must be up-to-date on high-tech skills for ever-changing high-tech jobs. Companies need access to research and market information to improve products and services, and respond to competition. They need access to the same quality health care for their employees available in larger cities. And, of course, businesses need high-speed telecommunications to send and receive large amounts of information quickly and reliably.
Indeed, business leaders see telecommunications as the primary way to expand access to health care services, education, workforce training, government services, commercial information. All of which in turn improves the quality of life for our citizens.
Without exaggeration, a modern, advanced telecommunications infrastructure is as important as electricity, roads and rail lines were 70 years ago.
Without infrastructure - without a 21st century telecommunications infrastructure - communities simply can't attract or grow the telecommunications and technology-dependent businesses that are driving the state's - and the nation's - economy.
For rural areas, it's often a chicken-and-egg problem. High-tech companies won't locate in many communities because they lack the 21st century infrastructure. But telecommunications companies don't invest because communities lack the high-tech customer base.
From my very first day as governor, I have been committed to overcoming these challenges, bridging the "digital divide," and creating "One Washington" - a Washington that's not divided between rich and poor, east and west, urban and rural.
And we've taken some very big steps so far to build a 21st century telecommunications infrastructure. More than $4 million in grants are now available for technology and telecommunications infrastructure in rural counties. Rural counties now keep part of the sales taxes they collect for the state, so they can fund local telecommunications infrastructure projects.
We've continued funding for the K-20 educational network so that every one of our state's public school districts - including the one in your hometown - now has access to high-speed data, video and Internet services. In many communities, the K-20 network has worked as an anchor tenant for private telecommunications investment - bringing advanced services to businesses and homes in smaller communities more quickly.
And we've provided funding for educators to develop school curriculums in concert with high-tech companies so all high school students will have the computer skills they'll need in the 21st century workplace.
We've offered tax credits for telecommunications-dependent businesses that locate in rural counties. This program is barely a year old, but it's working. One high-tech company that has taken advantage of this tax credit now employs 120 people in rural Grays Harbor County and expects 300 by year's end.
We've provided funding for high-tech education and skills training to laid off workers to ensure that high-paying, high-tech Washington jobs go to Washingtonians.
We've developed distance learning programs in our community and technical colleges. Now a single working mother in Pomeroy or Ritzville can earn a 2-year degree without leaving her children, her job, or her life behind to go to college in another city.
And this year, with the help of many people in this room, we passed the first major telecommunications legislation since the 80s - legislation that will promote telecommunications investment in rural areas by encouraging new market entrants, reducing regulations, ensuring that competitive markets work more efficiently and providing regulatory certainty when service is improved.
We're making progress on so many fronts, but we need to do more. We must enact a universal service program so citizens in rural areas continue to have affordable, basic telephone service while competition develops in the telecommunications industry. We must connect our libraries to the K-20 network so that no citizen is denied access to the educational opportunities, government information, and commercial resources the Internet offers. And we must continue to expand workforce training and life-long learning opportunities.
But as we move forward, we must also keep in mind that while state government provides important tools, they're just that -- tools. And tools are only as good as the craftsmen and artisans who use them. There must be vision and leadership at each level of government if we are to succeed in getting our rural communities connected.
That's why we need to work together, to stress the importance of a 21st century infrastructure and to urge citizens to use the tools available to them to the best advantage, and to attract new businesses to rural areas. Communities must emphasize their strengths. I need your help to design programs that address your needs and concerns, so that our efforts result in real value to those communities on the front lines of the digital divide.
The key to success is partnerships.
Thomas Friedman of the New York Times said it best: "We have moved from a world in which the rugged individualist is the executive role model … to a world where the … alliance maker is the executive role model…." It's about alliances. So let's work together as allies, as partners. Let's continue to put our heads together - just like we're doing today - to find solutions.
I'd like to say one more thing. I know that some people are fearful of change. They tell me they don't want to be part of the global economy. They're not comfortable with technology. They don't want to lose the rural character of their communities. They want things to stay just the way they are.
But things won't just "stay the way they are." With global competition, our businesses and farms must become more efficient just to survive, or our competitors who embrace technology will prosper at our expense.
You know the story of the wise English King Canute. He placed his throne upon the seashore to show his subjects that even the king couldn't hold back the tide.
Well, the information-age economy is like the tide, and no mayor, no legislator, no educator, no U.S. Senator, and no governor can hold it back.
But we can channel the tide to our advantage. We can ride the wave. And I assure you we're not talking about surrendering the beauty or character of our rural communities. We're not talking about losing our core values. Rather, we're talking about using telecommunications and technology to raise the bar of our quality of life. We're talking about "One Washington…" where everybody has a job they can be proud of…and doors of opportunity open for every child.
This month, high schools across rural Washington will graduate another senior class of bright young men and women - your sons and daughters. Many will go away to four-year or two-year colleges, or military service. Ask yourselves - how many of your sons and daughters will return to your rural communities after college graduation? Will the opportunities available to them in their hometowns be as good as those down the road, across the state, or across the continent?
And for those who don't go away to college, what kind of job opportunities will they have? What kind of future will be available to them?
I want your sons and daughters to choose their own futures. I don't want them to be forced to leave their hometowns because of the lack of professional opportunities. I don't want settling for a low-wage job to be their ticket price for staying in their hometowns with their families.
By working together, we can "get connected." We can build a 21st century telecommunications infrastructure. We can make advanced telecommunications services available to all our citizens. We can allow businesses to grow and prosper in rural communities.
Senator Murray, thank you again for hosting this important conference, and for your support of rural Washington.
And thanks to all of you for working with me to make Washington - all of Washington, our One Washington - a great place to live, to work, and to raise a family.