Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Economic Development and Workforce Education Conference
October 29, 2002
Thank you, President Wakefield. Good morning. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Visitors tell us that our state is one of the most beautiful spots on earth. Our diverse Washington landscape features fertile agricultural valleys and rugged mountains. Deep alpine woods and lush rain forests. Rich wine country and vast ocean beaches. Rolling rivers and rolling hills and farmland stretching to the horizon.
Our economy is also highly diverse. We are known around the world for software, timber and forest products, seafood and agricultural goods, airplanes and fine wines.
We’ve assumed a leading role in information technology. Seattle entrepreneurs have created business models. A “Seattle brand” recognized around the world. We have Gates and Microsoft, Shultz and Starbucks, Bezos and Amazon.com,.
We are well aware of the scenic variety of our state. We’ve long understood that this variety makes Washington a wonderful place to live, work and raise a family.
But we haven’t always made that connection with our economy. We haven’t always understood that the wide variety of Washington products and services is a potentially powerful advantage for our state.
But today we do understand. We recognize that we can actively pursue our state’s geographic and economic variety as a competitive edge. And the concept of focusing on regions and industry clusters is the result.
We now understand that related industries often locate in the same region because of conditions specific to that region. Economic development is regional. Industries cluster in regions because of specific local assets. Assets like agricultural capacity, proximity to research and development facilities, or to serve large concentrations of people.
And so we have a premium wine industry in Walla Walla; food processing industries clustered in Yakima; advanced health services in Spokane; high-tech in central Puget Sound; and semi-conductors in the Vancouver area.
Most major industry clusters in our state suffer from a skills gap. Health care, construction, and software/information technology are important clusters in some or all of our state’s economic regions.
All three of these clusters need more skilled workers than our state can supply. We are unable to keep up with the demand. What a lost opportunity! What an irony for our state. There are thousands of people wanting family wage jobs, but we struggle with high unemployment, and we can’t keep up with this demand for skilled workers in good jobs!
At the same time, there are 34 community and technical colleges in Washington. These colleges are vital to our economic growth. They provide job-training programs to help businesses grow. And they help workers earn higher wages.
In the past decade, our community and technical colleges have been successful by being pragmatic. The college system has focused on industry-defined skill standards, giving students the skills employers need.
Many new programs have been created in those areas I mentioned—high-tech, health care, winemaking, and others.
Skill certificate programs have been implemented with the active input of the relevant industries. Training is more accessible with evening and weekend course offerings. Financial assistance is easier to access.
The community and technical college system offers great strategic advantages in meeting our state’s workforce needs.
It is a very flexible system. It is a very responsive system. And, importantly, community and technical colleges are regionally based.
So regional industry clusters and community and technical colleges are a natural match. We’ve pursued this match. Local Workforce Development Councils—WDCs—have been working with local colleges and businesses.
They are leading the way in proving that this approach to training and economic development works, and has even greater potential.
Let me give you a few examples.
Consider Bellingham’s Northwest Alliance for Healthcare Skills. The Washington State Hospital Association and the Association of Washington Public Hospital Districts have highlighted the Alliance as a major success. It was sponsored by the Northwest WDC.
The Alliance includes all major health care providers, labor leaders, and all local community and technical colleges. These 21 organizations are working together to identify and resolve skills gaps in Bellingham’s health care sector. The approach works.
Similar health care panels exist at WDCs throughout the state. WDCs have invested more than $7 million in training and other activities to tackle the skills gap in health care.
Another good example is the Skill Training for Incumbent Workers project. This project is in central Washington’s agriculture and food processing sector. It is focused on three industry-identified needs: programmable Logic Control, Ammonia Refrigeration, and Forklift Operator. So far, nine customized training sessions have been conducted for 173 incumbent workers from 32 companies.
These workers represent 47 different plants or worksites. A sample of the results from one class showed an average wage increase of $587 per trainee. The approach works.
WDCs and colleges throughout the state are using my Industries of the Future program. This program gives customized training to workers in strategic local industries like Communication Technology, Industrial Construction, Health Care and Manufacturing.
And industry panels at WDCs throughout the state are bringing the leaders of key local industries to the table. They’re working on developing training that will create skilled workers needed in various sectors. Again, the approach works.
These examples show it can be done. We’re attacking the skills gap. We’re bringing the needs of regional industry clusters together with the strategic advantages of community and technical colleges. These public-private partnerships are a critical foundation to economic growth in our state.
But we are only just getting started. We must keep this momentum going. We must build upon it. We must stay committed to these partnerships – partnerships for progress and prosperity.
Accordingly, this morning I would like to announce that I am providing $1.5 million from the Governor’s discretionary Workforce Investment Act funds to support these partnerships. This will fund another 5 or 6 consortia of training providers, business and labor.
We’re calling these grants Targeted Industry Partnership (TIP) grants. Employment Security will award the grants. The WDCs will administer the grants locally.
These are belt-tightening times. As you probably know, our state faces a $2 billion deficit for the next biennium.
But we can’t afford to stop investing in Washington competitiveness, in economic development, in education and training, and in our future.
Regional industry clusters will help restore economic health to our state. But only if they have the skilled, productive workers they need. Community and technical colleges provide the education and training workers need to win these jobs. Then we all win. And our state wins.
Increasingly, our economy is knowledge-driven. In a knowledge-driven economy, learning is the key. We must encourage partnerships that lead to learning. Partnerships that help our businesses and workers. Partnerships that propel our state to the forefront of the knowledge-based national and global economies.
Times are tough in our state. But we will not return to economic health and prosperity by standing still and hoping things don’t get worse. We must innovate and take advantage of our state’s natural advantages—its communities, its regional economic diversity, and its people.
Working together, I’m confident we will achieve great things. Our future is bright.
Thank you for your efforts today and in the coming months and years. Together we can make sure Washington remains a great place to live, work and raise a family.