Washington is America’s #1 state for business

“With the nation’s fastest-growing economy and an all-star business roster of household names and up-and-comers, Washington — the Evergreen State — soars above the competition as America’s Top State for Business in 2017.”
— Scott Cohn, CNBC

Landing in the top spot may come as no surprise to those of who live, work and play in our beautiful state. We are fortunate to have a diversity of strong industry sectors where marquee companies arefounded and headquartered. Part of Commerce’s role is to facilitate growth of these industries and help small businesses across the state, and in the last four years we have reimagined and significantly stepped up those efforts. The record increases in transportation and education funding will also help ensure our long-term success.

However, this honor also shines a spotlight on some challenges that need to be addressed. From an alarming shortage of affordable housing in many areas to public infrastructure in need of repair and expansion, we have work to do to ensure that rural and underserved communities see the benefits of our strong state economy.

In a video interview with CNBC Top States reporter Scott Cohn, Gov. Inslee talks about the pillars of Washington’s economic strength: quality of life, innovation and talent – as well as the obstacles we must overcome to build on today’s success for future generations.

Read Gov. Inslee’s commentary

Legislative Update

The recent legislative session was the longest ever, and for many, the most difficult in memory. Lawmakers failed to reach an agreement on a capital budget. This is unprecedented, and, depending on how long it takes to finally pass the budget, will have far-reaching and disruptive impacts on the lives of Washington residents, on our communities and businesses, and on Commerce.

Most projects currently underway will continue, thanks to a re-appropriation in the state operating budget. However, some ongoing drinking water projects and anything requiring a new appropriation halts until a capital budget is approved. For Commerce, this includes new Clean Energy Fund projects, grants and loans from the state’s Housing Trust Fund, Community Economic Revitalization Board, Public Works Board, and Capital Community Facilities projects in virtually every legislative district in the state.

The capital budget funds work that is at the heart of our mission to strengthen communities: water infrastructure, energy resiliency, community facilities, weatherization, early learning schoolrooms, affordable housing, and mental health beds to name some.

While legislative leaders have vowed to continue working on a capital budget agreement, it is currently being held up, pending passage of an unrelated water-rights issue known as the Hirst decision. When or if legislative leaders reach agreement, the Governor has said that he will call a special one-day session to approve the budget bill. Both pieces of legislation are important for Washington communities.

In the meantime, if you have any questions about projects or impacts in your community, your Commerce team will provide information and updates to the best of our ability.

Connecting employers with Washington’s hidden workforce

We all must work together to ensure that those re-entering the community after incarceration have opportunities for housing and employment and other connections to community. Commerce has been directly involved in re-entry in a number of ways this past year – and we will stay involved in years to come.

It is critical that re-entry after jail or prison go smoothly. Successful re-entry improves public safety and reduces recidivism. Commerce is leveraging connections with employers to help sponsor “Discover Washington’s Hidden Workforce: An Employer Forum” this fall to help update employers on training and skills men and women learn while in prison. Our goal is for more employers to meet people preparing to come back to the community and break down stereotypes about employing people with criminal histories.

Making connections and providing a forum to break down our assumptions about those who have paid their debt to society is part of the new Statewide Re-entry Council’s role at Commerce.

Why Commerce? The agency is a logical home for this work because our mission of strengthening communities is tied to funding community supports like safety, employment, housing, and community services.

To learn more about the upcoming employer forum and the re-entry council’s work, contact Cary Retlin, Interim Executive Director, Statewide Re-entry Council, (360) 725-2836.

Northrop Grumman: “one of our best small business events”

Nearly 130 small and diverse manufacturers and other businesses attended a one-day supplier summit with defense contractor Northrop Grumman on July 21 in Renton. Congressman Adam Smith delivered keynote remarks at the event organized by Commerce, Washington State Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC), Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance, Pacific Northwest Defense Coalition, and the Washington Center for Women in Business.

The event is a one-of-a-kind opportunity to showcase Washington innovation, manufacturing capability and talent, and demonstrate the value of our state’s small businesses to the defense giant’s supply chain.

Participants got an overview of Northrop Grumman’s procurement processes and had small group meetings with representatives in aerostructures, mission support, tech services and corporate divisions.
They also learned from a panel of local experts who provide services and support for small businesses in Washington state.

To put things in perspective, large Department of Defense (DOD) prime contractors like Northrop Grumman frequently have events like this, but rarely do they come to Washington state. Distance can be a barrier to small businesses with limited ability to travel to big company headquarters or hubs for DOD acquisition activity.

At this event, the Northrop Grumman team specifically sought to meet with small and diverse suppliers and subcontractors: women-owned, minority-owned, service disabled veteran-owned and HUBZone certified firms. DOD and other federal contracts encourage diverse contracting.

Northrop Grumman’s outreach team reported that this is one of the best such events they’ve had anywhere and indicated they plan to return next year and perhaps make this an annual event.

Budget cuts gut international trade, business development on the heels of successful summer trade show season

Summer months are often the busiest for Commerce teams and our community economic development partners who help Washington’s key industry sectors and small businesses connect with new business opportunities and investors at home and abroad. This year is no exception, with successful delegations to the International Paris Air Show, SelectUSA Investment Summit, BIO International and a state technology trade mission to Tokyo among the highlights. Unfortunately, deep budget cuts to Commerce’s Office of Economic Development and Competitiveness will mean significant scaling back for these important opportunities to market Washington state against our competitors and support some of our most promising companies and innovations.

International Paris Air Show

Washington state’s presence at the 52nd International Paris Air Show in June – the world’s premier gathering for the aerospace industry – was our largest ever. U.S. Congressman Rick Larsen co-led the delegation with Director Bonlender. Participants logged nearly 300 business meetings and some impressive wins. Read more in our June 22 press release.

SelectUSA Investment Summit

Also in June, Commerce and partners from Columbia River Economic Development Council, Seattle-King County Economic Development, and the Innovation Triangle Cities of Redmond-Kirkland-Bellevue attended the 2017 SelectUSA Investment Summit in Washington, D.C.

The SelectUSA Investment Summit is the highest-profile event dedicated to promoting foreign direct investment (FDI) in the United States. This signature event provides an unparalleled opportunity to bring together companies from all over the world, economic development organizations from every corner of the nation, and other parties working to facilitate business investment in the U.S. Featuring senior government officials, top corporate business executives and other thought leaders, each summit focuses on a timely theme related to the U.S. investment environment, industry trends and emerging opportunities. SelectUSA reported record attendance in 2017, with 2,800 participants from 51 states and territories, as well as companies and organizations from 64 global markets.

Commerce promoted investment opportunities available in the state of Washington with a well-positioned booth in the main exposition hall. We held more than 60 meetings with companies in a variety of industries from throughout the world, as well as with multiplier organizations and FDI-related service providers. The business development team is now hard at work following up on strong leads, including four significant near-term opportunities.

BIO International Convention

Commerce led a Washington state delegation to the 2017 BIO International Convention in San Diego, with 14 Washington life sciences industry organizations participating in the first-ever “Choose Washington” state pavilion at this major global event. See Washington’s Who’s Who at BIO

BIO is the largest worldwide gathering of the biotech industry that attracts more than 15,000 attendees from 60 countries. BIO attendees include thousands of leading companies, executives, academic institutions including the major research labs and government agencies, and top consultants and service companies.
Keynote addresses this year included former UK Prime Minister David Cameron speaking about Alzheimer’s research, and Ann Romney, former first lady of Massachusetts, who spoke about patient advocacy.

Tokyo Trade Mission

Commerce partnered with Innovation Finders Capital to showcase our state’s world-leading information and communications technology (ICT) sector and match 11 innovative small companies and startups with some of
Japan’s major enterprises and investors. The three-day trade mission focused on artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, advanced technology enabled by cloud computing – an arena where Washington leads the world.

Reports from the just-concluded Tokyo mission are positive, noting standing-room-only attendance for multiple presentations by the “Choose Washington” delegation members. Undaunted by a magnitude 3 earthquake on the morning of the final day, a hectic schedule of meetings included the Tokyo offices of Deloitte & Touche, where some of that global firm’s most important clients such as Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Toto and Tokyo Electric Power Company, came to hear pitches from the Washington companies.

“Washington state is a great environment for product development and manufacturing. The indigenous tech workforce here is a huge advantage – this is our message to Japanese companies,” said Tom Sato, CEO of Innovation Finders Capital.

Gov. Jay Inslee set the foundation for this trade mission by signing a memorandum of understanding with Japan in 2016, signifying agreement to promote cooperative research and information exchange with the aim of expanding opportunities for technological and investment partnership in business and industry.

Download the tech trade mission directory for more information about the participants and stats on Washington’s ICT sector.

Many small and start-up tech companies would find it challenging if not impossible to gain access to multiple chief executives and investors from major corporations without the expertise, organization and support provided by the Department of Commerce through a state-sanctioned international trade mission. Individual export counseling, market intelligence, matchmaking and small business trade expansion vouchers are some of the crucial export assistance programs provided by Commerce.

HART recommends ways to address affordable housing crisis

On June 6, Director Bonlender joined a cross-divisional team from Commerce’s Growth Management Services and Community Services and Housing, and members of the Governor-appointed Affordable Housing Advisory Board (AHAB) in presenting Governor Inslee’s office with eight recommendations for reducing barriers to middle and low-income housing production in Washington state.

The recommendations represent the initial findings of the Housing Affordability Response Team (HART), which was convened at the request of the governor. Over four months, the team examined how existing zoning and planning, permitting, development, financing and construction processes can be improved to increase affordable housing construction.

HART recommendations underscore the need for a multi-disciplinary, collaborative response to the affordable housing crisis in Washington. They range from providing broad-based education to local jurisdictions to pursuing specific statutory and regulatory changes intended to reduce development costs.

Read the full report from the AHAB website.

China-Washington State Trade and Investment Cooperation Forum

On July 20 in Seattle, the Trade Development Bureau of the China Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM), Commerce and the Washington State China Relations Council (WSCRC) co-hosted the second subnational forum on promoting trade and investment between Washington state and provinces of China. It was a return engagement spurred by last year’s highly successful gathering.

Lt. Governor Cyrus Habib, Commerce Director Brian Bonlender, Chenghai Sun, Director General of Trade Development Bureau of MOFCOM, and Yihang Yang, Economic and Commercial Counselor at the Consul General of China in San Francisco participated in the forum and gave opening remarks.

Chris Green, Commerce’s assistant director for economic development and competitiveness, provided an overview of investment environment in Washington. Brian Young, Gov. Inslee’s industry sector lead, gave specifics on opportunities in clean technology and renewable energy.

Companies that presented at the forum include: energy storage innovators UniEnergy Technologies (UET) of Mukilteo; commercial real estate agency Kidder Mathews; business law firm Davis Wright Tremaine which has offices in the U.S. and Shanghai, China, and Washington wine country firm Goodnoe Station Development.

WSCRC president Mercy Kuo‘s article in “The Diplomat” provides insight on the forum, as well as context for understanding the strong positive relationship between our state and the provinces of China at a time when U.S. trade policy is in flux.

New Americans program helps community members complete the path to citizenship

The Washington New Americans program receives state funding through Commerce to connect immigrants and refugees to the information and legal services needed to naturalize and exercise their civic voice. Following is the story of one woman’s successful journey to citizenship. It’s one of many similar tales, this one shared by La Casa Hogar, a nonprofit organization serving immigrant families in the Yakima Valley.

Maria came to the United States 27 years ago. She worked hard in the fruit fields and warehouses in the Yakima Valley to provide for her family. She heard rumors that after living in the U.S. for 10 years or more, an undocumented person could obtain a work permit and become a Lawful Permanent Resident. She soon sought the advice of an attorney in the Seattle area. The attorney told her that he could help her and her husband fix their status here in the U.S. and obtain work permits.

Maria had no knowledge of the immigration laws and fully trusted the attorney, so she began the process. Maria obtained a work permit that she had to spend thousands of dollars renewing every year and paying attorney fees. She continued her life in the U.S., went back to school to take English classes and became a Nursing Assistant. Maria never suspected that a few months later she and her husband would receive a visit at their places of work from two immigration officers presenting them with a deportation order.

Maria was devastated and thought her family would forever be separated. Her husband was deported soon after receiving the notice. Maria, then unemployed and in the care of five children, enlisted the help of many local attorneys and community members; she was granted lawful permanent resident status in 2010.

In the winter of 2015, as soon as Maria met the naturalization eligibility requirements, she started to attend La Casa Hogar’s citizenship classes in Wapato. With hard work, commitment and a vision for her family and herself, she completed her process and was sworn in as a U.S. citizen on January 29, 2016.

After overcoming such adversity, Maria was left with a profound desire to help her community overcome the many obstacles they face along the road to obtaining U.S. citizenship. Maria now funnels this passion into her role as a citizenship volunteer with La Casa Hogar.

“Now is my time to give back to my community,” she proudly said during her first day as a volunteer in the citizenship class.