Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Governor's 2002 Economic Development Conference Keynote Address
September 12, 2002
Good morning everyone.
I am excited to join you for what I understand is a sell out crowd for the first-ever Governor’s Economic Development Conference.
Last week was a big week for Mona and me. Our daughter Emily started kindergarten. With our son Dylan only two years behind her, it got me thinking about their futures.
What kinds of jobs will be available when they graduate? Will they be forced to leave Washington state to look for new and better opportunities?
The answer is no, because our state’s future is bright. But we can’t take anything for granted.
I intend to do everything I can to make sure my children and all our children can live and work in a state with a vibrant economy and unlimited opportunities.
My hope for Emily and Dylan is the same one I have for all Washington families.
That’s why we’re here.
That’s why I launched this first-ever statewide conference on economic development.
We must take action now.
We’ve been so fortunate to enjoy economic success in our state, some of it because of luck.
But as the last year’s economic downturn has shown us, things can change so quickly.
When I led a state trade mission to Japan and Korea back in July, I saw our competition firsthand. Both countries are hungry to grow their economies and enjoy the same kind of prosperity we’ve experienced. And many want to locate facilities in our state to be closer to their markets. There’s a lot at stake in this global game and we’ve got to step up and meet the challenge.
We must send a clear signal that Washington state is not only open for business, but that we are going after it – keeping and growing the jobs we already have and attracting new ones.
That’s why I established the Competitiveness Council last summer, even before the freefall in the national and state economies.
They have been hard at work identifying what Washington needs to succeed in a globally competitive environment.
And their number one priority is transportation.
Our state’s transportation system is in desperate need of substantial improvements. We lose $2 billion every year due to congestion, measured in wasted time, wasted fuel, and shippers’ delays.
We have to make sure that people and goods can move around the state and that we’re investing in the basic infrastructure we need to grow. We need to improve our transportation system.
The Competitiveness Council also focused on the need to develop our human capital. That means making sure we have the best schools and a highly skilled workforce.
We have some of the most capable, talented and educated workers in the country. Our workforce of 2.9 million is experienced, well educated and often multi-lingual.
The Corporation for Enterprise Development rated our state first in high school attainment for 2001.
Our universities produce top-notch graduates and enjoy international reputations for research in science, medicine, engineering, agriculture and biotechnology.
I’m pleased to see Ellen O’Brien Saunders here. As director of the state’s Workforce Coordinating Board, she’s been key in responding to the needs of industry to make sure we have the skilled workers that companies demand.
Taxes were another major issue for the Competitiveness Council. We have already taken action on some of their recommendations.
For example, I championed a reduction in the rates for unemployment insurance, which was passed by the legislature. And I know that will save millions of dollars for businesses in our state.
The council also made significant recommendations on how to improve the state’s regulatory process.
We agreed that we needed to maintain our strong commitment to high standards for clean water and clean air but that we needed to change and expedite the permitting process.
It says a lot that Tom Fitzsimmons, the director of the state’s Department of Ecology, is here. He’ll participate in a workshop about how we’re speeding up our state permits.
Paul Isaki is also here. As my Special Assistant for Business, Paul is focused on improving our regulatory process.
We have made progress. And we are continuing to streamline our permitting and regulatory processes.
We have reformed our water laws, doubling the number of permits we’ve issued for water rights in the last year.
We also recently issued Safeway a permit for its new distribution center at the Boeing Auburn site – a site with significant environmental problems – in record time.
But we still face some major challenges – namely, a budget gap of over $1 billion, the high cost of energy and a lingering recession.
Forty-five other states face deep deficits totaling $58 billion.
I know you are familiar with these obstacles, because you work to overcome them everyday.
I also understand we need to give you the tools you need to compete for economic development opportunities. That’s why in 1999 I proposed, and won, an expansion of the rural sales tax refund program. That generated $47 million that’s gone back into rural communities to create jobs.
Another major accomplishment is the legislation I sponsored and signed last year that provided almost $19 million in new funding for the Community Economic Revitalization Board, or CERB program.
The CERB program has awarded $80 million for projects across the state.
These projects have leveraged $1.6 billion in private sector investment and led to the creation or retention of 18,000 jobs.
I went to the CERB board in 1999 to ask them to set aside $1.5 million to invest in telecommunications infrastructure.
As a result, Washington Dental Services, in May of this year, opened a call center a few miles up the road in Colville with 50 jobs.
Expanding telecommunications opportunities in the state has been one of my top priorities.
It’s now much easier for telecommunications companies to improve services to rural Washington.
We’ve accomplished this through alternative forms of regulation that help service providers stay cost effective in these areas.
We’ve streamlined local regulations to speed up siting and construction of telecommunications systems in rural areas.
We’ve also fostered the deployment of modern, advanced telecommunications in rural areas by authorizing public utility districts and rural port districts to provide wholesale telecommunications services.
And we now provide tax credits for telecommunications-dependent businesses that locate in rural counties.
I’m proud of what we’ve done so far to help Washington stay competitive. But we need to continue to move forward.
We’re currently working on an economic recovery package that lays the groundwork for our state’s economic future.
First, we must improve the state transportation system.
Washington voters will have the opportunity to do that this fall with Referendum 51.
Second, we must increase our investment in key economic infrastructure.
We need more than a one-time investment.
We must change our state constitution to compete with other states in attracting new businesses and helping existing businesses grow and expand.
Tax increment financing (TIF) will let local economic development professionals finance the infrastructure they believe will help aid recovery most.
Let the new tax dollars generated by economic development projects help pay for those projects – projects that, after all, bring permanent new jobs!
We need to adopt TIF as a creative approach to infrastructure investment.
Third, we must position Washington to compete in the new industries that will shape the 21st century economic landscape.
We must build on our strengths in knowledge and innovation. We’ve been a home to innovation. World-class companies like Microsoft, Starbucks, Amazon.com and Costco all started right here in the state of Washington.
And now, we have a tremendous opportunity to create a new competitive advantage.
Information technology is transforming the fields of biotechnology, wireless telecommunications, clean energy, and agriculture and our state is on the cutting edge of these industries.
The key to those opportunities is making sure we have quality institutions of higher education.
That means we must establish an adequate, stable and predictable source of funding for higher education.
Reforms in our K-12 education system continue to improve the quality of education available to our children. But will they have opportunities in our state for a high quality college education?
This is a key element in providing a world-class workforce that will attract and retain businesses in our state.
We must also ensure that every adult in Washington has access to high-quality education and training opportunities.
This is critical to continuing economic recovery and development.
It is also critical in assuring that citizens have the knowledge and skills needed to secure family-wage jobs.
Indeed, in our discussions with numerous companies considering locating in Washington state, we are constantly asked about state assistance in specialized workforce training.
Finally, we need to bring the private sector into our economic development initiatives.
In the next month, I plan to sign an Executive Order creating a new Economic Development Commission. This group will guide and offer private sector input to our economic policy.
It’s a step that will strengthen our focus on our state’s economic future.
The Commission will include representatives from around the state and will reflect the diversity of our industries.
I’m confident that this strong agenda will position Washington for economic success.
My vision for Washington is to see our state—all parts of our state—share in prosperity and development.
I’m working to make sure all our children – all the Emilys and all the Dylans – will have every opportunity to live, work and raise their own families in a state with a vibrant economy and unlimited opportunities.
And that’s my vision for the future generations of all Washington families.
Thank you, and enjoy the conference.