Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Competitiveness Council Meeting Remarks
December 11, 2002
I’ve already discussed our budget challenges. I’d like to turn our attention to economic recovery and staying competitive.
I was on a trade mission in China and Singapore last week. My goal was to try to bring jobs back to our state. I am optimistic that we succeeded.
We need those jobs. Since the economic peak in 2000, we have lost almost 80,000 jobs. The economy has continued to suffer. And the demand for state social services has increased.
We can’t talk about resolving our budget difficulties without addressing economic recovery. Even as we face a budget deficit, we must continue to support business and new jobs. We must continue to stimulate investment and economic development.
Last December, this Council made some very significant recommendations.
We’ve acted on many of those recommendations. And our state has made substantial progress in becoming more competitive.
But we still have plenty of progress to make and work to do.
Following this Council’s recommendations, we’ve worked to reduce the tax burden on businesses in our state
Last year we passed legislation to make the unemployment insurance system more equitable. This legislation would have saved millions of dollars for businesses in our state.
Opponents of the legislation succeeded in getting it to the voters. The competitiveness issues at stake were obscured. The measure was very confusing to voters. It was rejected.
We must continue to work to implement this legislation.
A number of tax incentives will be expiring soon. Many of you are understandably concerned about these incentives. For example, tax incentives for R&D are an important competitiveness tool for our technology economy. I do not want to see these incentives sunset.
We have one more legislative session to reenact these incentives. We need time to figure out how we will pay for them.
This Council also recommended significant regulatory reform. You recommended that procedures be streamlined and shortened while maintaining high environmental standards.
We’ve made great progress in this area. Some of you here today are Regulatory Performance Advisors. With your help, the Department of Ecology is streamlining and improving regulatory service.
Ecology has also adopted benchmarks for primary permit programs. The benchmarks are used to gauge progress. For example, for 401 permits, Ecology is piloting an effort to make application decisions within 90 days. Their benchmark is 90%--they must try to make that 90-day deadline with at least 90% of all applications. This goal has prompted a re-engineered decision process, and better coordination with Corps of Engineers permitting.
There are many specific success stories already. A few months ago, I took part in a groundbreaking event in Auburn—the site of a new Safeway distribution center. Safeway wanted to purchase the land from Boeing but faced an important constraint. Safeway needed certainty that the requisite permits would be granted by a certain date—July. Otherwise, the option to purchase the land would not be exercised.
But the regulatory requirements were complex. There were approvals and permits needed both for the Boeing demolition and cleanup, and for Safeway’s construction. We worked with all parties. The parties met in late May this year. Ecology laid out the objective – not subjective – requirements for the various permits. The permits were issued by mid-July. They were issued in record time.
A major economic asset is now in our region because we were able to move quickly and effectively. That asset includes 200 new jobs.
Last July, we also issued a water-quality certification and permits to the Port of Seattle to rebuild the deteriorating Pier 90. That was just one month after the application was filed.
That will mean jobs with the cruise ship lines. It will mean more tourism dollars for the state.
The red tape is being cut. Processing times are being dramatically reduced. Agency after agency, we’re saving time, money, energy and aggravation by streamlining regulatory processes.
Human capital and innovation is another area of progress.
We must continue to work for the best schools possible. Test scores are rising but we need to provide more stable funding for our colleges and universities. We have some of the most capable, talented and educated workers in the country. Our workforce of 2.9 million is experienced and well educated.
Our universities produce top-notch graduates and enjoy international reputations for research in science, medicine, engineering, agriculture and biotechnology. But we need to ensure more of the same in the future.
A strong economy will require that we identify new opportunities for our workforce. Right now, the convergence of biosciences, information technology and computer science is creating a new industry—the bioinformation industry. We are strongly positioned in these fields. We can be a leading regional center for this emerging industry.
We must seize the initiative to create this and other new competitive advantages. Information technology is transforming the life sciences, wireless telecommunications, clean energy, and agriculture. And our state is on the cutting edge.
In Singapore last week, we lobbied for Washington companies and institutions involved in the biotechnology and life sciences industries.
A strong transportation system is another key to competitiveness, as I said earlier. I thank the Council for supporting our efforts to make this happen in November. We gave the effort our all. We were not successful.
We cannot give up on transportation improvements. And we will not give up. Too much is at stake.
Finally, we must continue to work on the recommendations of the economic development task force. We need solid short and long term strategies to get our economy moving again.
In September I signed an executive order creating the Washington State Economic Development Commission. This gives our state the guidance and support of the business community for our economic development strategy.
We’ve responded to the call for more economic development tools. We’ve proposed tax increment financing. We’re marketing our state more aggressively with businesses making new facility location decisions. And we’re exploring new ways to help small businesses get off to a good start and grow. We need these engines of growth in our economy.
As I said at the outset, it’s important that we focus on jobs. We are creating high-paying construction jobs with $2.5 billion in new public works funding. We are exploring new trade. We are working with Workforce Development Councils across the state. We must continue our focus on jobs as a key to recovery. And we will.
This Council is a valuable resource and catalyst for making our state more competitive. Our job is not finished. I need your support and guidance.
Next Tuesday we will announce the budget for the next biennium. It will make some people unhappy. But we’ve all seen the numbers. This problem cannot be fixed by doing some trimming here and there. We have to look at everything we do. We must deliver what matters most to Washington citizens within existing revenues. Many of you have had to ask your employees to make sacrifices. We must ask the same of our citizens in these trying times.
I remain confident that by working together, we will maintain our competitive focus. Let’s work together to make sure that our state remains a great place to work, live and raise a family.