Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
November 19, 2004
Thank you for that kind introduction. I am honored to be here to speak at today’s economic summit. I am pleased that many of the key leaders in the Puget Sound region are here today. The strong turnout reflects the importance of this meeting.
In less than two months, I will leave this job I’ve grown to love so much. As I’ve reflected on how much I have enjoyed serving the people of Washington, I’ve felt many things. Gratitude. Humility. Hope. Satisfaction. A sense of accomplishment.
I’ve been deeply honored to serve as Governor of this great state. And I am very proud of the progress we’ve made during my two terms. From raising academic achievement and job growth to regulatory reform; from increasing sales of Washington agriculture to foreign markets to improving services to Washington citizens. We have Washington right on track for a very bright future.
I’m especially proud because we’ve faced some formidable challenges. Challenges that seemed to come from every direction. A major earthquake. An energy crisis. Droughts. September 11th, and the constant challenge of improving Homeland Security. A severe economic downturn. Serious state budget shortfalls. Not to mention this year’s Mariners and the Huskies and Cougars football teams!
Yet here we are. We survived, we’ve rebounded, and we’re charging ahead. The people of Washington have a right to be proud of our progress.
Despite continued national economic distress, Washington state is showing clear signs of a strong economic recovery. The Washington recovery is broad and deep and all across our state.
Employment in Washington is increasing more rapidly than in the country as a whole.
We added over 61,000 jobs in the last year. 10,000 net new jobs last month alone. Our unemployment rate has dropped by almost two percentage points since a year ago, twice as fast as the rest of America. We’ve gone in a short time from one of the highest unemployment rates in the country to the national average!
All this growth means that we have virtually regained all the jobs lost during the recession that began after 9/11.
The jobs that are being created are good jobs, too. Between the first and second quarters of this year, Washington had the highest increase in personal income in the country. Our earnings growth was twice the national average.
Many of these jobs have been created by businesses choosing to set up shop here in Washington. For example, nine national companies have chosen Washington over Oregon, Idaho and even California for major regional distributions, operations or manufacturing centers, directly employing 2,500 new employees. And REI has recently committed to expanding its distribution center in Sumner—another great example of a business recognizing what Washington has to offer.
Recent studies by independent organizations confirm our success in improving our business climate.
A study by the Tax Foundation ranked Washington 9th best in the nation for business friendly tax climate.
The Small Business Entrepreneurial Council ranked Washington the 4th friendliest business environment.
And the U.S. Census Bureau recently released state rankings for combined state and local tax burdens. We ranked 31st, meaning 30 states have higher combined tax burdens. This is the lowest our state has ranked since 1981!
So how did we do it?
There are many actions we took as a state. From our Priorities of Government budget process to the nickel transportation package to our successful trade missions, to targeted tax incentives to skills training for specific business sectors, we have taken many steps to bring economic prosperity back to the state.
And the work of groups like the Prosperity Partnership has been a significant contributor to our state’s success. This group grew out of the campaign to convince Boeing to locate final assembly of the 7E7 in Washington. The statewide, bipartisan effort of our Action Washington team was unprecedented—and very successful.
This effort was never about a few thousand new assembly jobs, but keeping all Boeing aircraft production jobs in Washington – and the 150,000 direct and indirect jobs!!
State agencies, state and local leaders, business and labor leaders, economic development councils, tribes, ports, and many others worked together to showcase our state’s global competitiveness, but more importantly, to make changes to laws and policies within their purview. Together, we’ve developed a powerful model of collaboration for business retention and recruitment.
We need to bottle the energy, enthusiasm and collaboration we generated during the 7E7 effort to focus on other economic development objectives. Action Washington demonstrated that when we all work together – state and local governments, labor and private businesses – we can accomplish great things for our state. But instead of waiting for the next opportunity to come along to unleash this powerful partnership, let’s create our own opportunities by targeting those industries that can be engines of prosperity in Washington.
The state’s Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development targeted industry strategy as part of its overall approach. By focusing our attention on specific industries within specific geographic areas, we can help businesses operate in mutually beneficial clusters. The industries we’ve identified fit together perfectly with those identified by the Prosperity Partnership. We can help each other attract and retain companies and jobs as a result.
The message from the state is that we will partner with you to target and focus on business and job growth. And we look forward to collaborating with businesses and local governments to reach the common goal of economic success for Washington state.
One specific way we are working with the Prosperity Partnership to grow a key industry is the Bio21 initiative. Two years ago I convened a group of industry experts, scientists, venture capitalists, and government officials to look at how our state can be even stronger in biomedical research by bringing together bio-tech and info. tech. to accelerate medical research and ultimately develop treatments and cures. We could take some of our future tobacco settlement bonus payments and in partnership with private foundations create a huge fund to support research and good paying jobs.
This is one example of how Washington can invest in developing our own homegrown industries of biotech and information technology. Bio21 represents the first coordinated effort by the state to help with the development of new industries.
We have had great success in other industries as well. Marine services, food processing, forest products, energy efficiency and various high-tech sectors are just a few examples of areas of targeted industries in our state that have resulted in economic success.
I am pleased with the many steps we have taken to grow the economy here in Washington. But there is another component to a strong economy that I haven’t discussed yet. And after eight years of listening to me, I am sure most of you know what that is! To keep our state economy strong, we must continue to build a strong, world-class education system.
We have made great strides in education reform. We’re proud of our progress. But we must do more. Our education system must keep up with the demands of the new economy. We must help every child from every background do well in school, and provide the opportunities for a college education.
For the 2008-2009 school year, an additional 30,000 students a year will be graduating from high school wanting to go on to college.
We must intensify our efforts to build a world-class education system. Our children will need the best education possible to prepare for the global, high-tech, 21st century economy that awaits them.
Such a goal requires funding. The investment required to take our education system to the world-class level is significant – but absolutely necessary.
We can’t tell our students to wait a few years before going to college. We can’t tell our businesses to suspend growth or hiring a few years until we expand our colleges and universities so our kids can get the education they need to compete for these good paying jobs.
A good education is not only the great equalizer; it’s the key to a vibrant economy and a better quality of life for the citizens of Washington state. Education benefits everyone. We must take necessary, essential, bold steps to reap broad rewards.
I was disappointed that I-884, the Education Trust Fund initiative, failed. Now it is even more important for the Legislature to ensure that our higher education system remains vibrant and accessible. It won’t be easy. But our children deserve nothing less than the best education we can offer.
Our state is a leader in so many areas. And that didn’t happen by accident. We’ve worked hard and made tough decisions over the years because we believe in this state. And we believe in an even brighter future for our citizens.
I commend all of you here today for taking part in this effort to help strengthen this region’s economy and quality of life. Your leadership in pushing these issues to the top of the public policy agenda is vital.
Our citizens enjoy living, working and raising their families here in Washington. What must we all do to make it even better and more prosperous?!
I wish you all a most productive conference and successful partnership!