Looking ahead to 2020: Keeping our state strong and competitive

Lisa BrownRewarding. Challenging. Promising. These are just some of the words that come to mind as I reflect on this past year and look ahead to 2020. It has been my privilege to serve as Commerce director, visiting dozens of communities from Northport to Walla Walla to Grays Harbor, and representing our state in Europe and Asia. Through our diverse portfolio of more than 90 programs, Commerce’s outstanding team of professionals makes a difference for thousands of people every day. Our work this year prioritized a set of outcomes for strengthening communities:

  • Reducing homelessness
  • Increasing living wage jobs
  • Improving housing affordability
  • Funding reliable infrastructure
  • Building a clean energy future

I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished this year, and I never tire of seeing firsthand the positive ways Commerce funding strengthens communities all over the state. Our $118 million 2019 capital budget boosted efforts in rural broadband expansion, the Housing Trust Fund and homelessness and community-based behavioral health facilities. Everywhere I traveled this year, it was so gratifying to witness how we are helping build capacity for local governments, tribes and small businesses, and helping our many public and private sector partners change lives and protect our quality of life.

Looking ahead, new investments in Governor Inslee’s proposed 2020 budget place Commerce as a leading partner in two key areas: bringing unsheltered people inside, and continuing the fight to reduce carbon emissions.

Making meaningful steps to bring people inside will require a significant increase in shelter capacity, as well as investments in additional housing supports.  If funded by the Legislature, Commerce would:

  • Administer a new grant program ($66 million) to local governments to reduce the number of unsheltered individuals,
  • Provide capital budget funding ($30 million) for the construction of new enhanced shelters and facility improvements to existing shelters, and
  • Launch a new pilot to ensure homeless youth have access to stable transitional housing ($1 million).

Under the Governor’s proposed budget, we would also provide permanent supportive housing assistance so that more than 1,000 individuals could access housing along with wrap-around services they need in order to maintain stability ($15.4 million). In addition, the Housing and Essential Needs (HEN) program would receive an additional $26 million to serve an additional 2,300 individuals.

Commerce’s Local Government Division would work collaboratively with our Community Services and Housing Division to develop affordable housing benchmarks that help local governments identify and share best practices in creating more affordable housing. These critical investments in sheltering and housing would be made available through emergency funds, rather than through a new revenue source.

Our Energy Division would help craft a 2050 Energy Vision by commissioning a comprehensive analysis of statewide emissions reduction strategies ($600,000). Stable funding would be provided to the State Efficiency and Environmental Performance (SEEP) program which aims to lower carbon emissions in state agencies. In addition, some state funding would be provided to support the work of the Energy Emergency Management in energy resilience planning and coordinating with utilities and local governments to restore power and fuel supplies in the event of an emergency.

Other proposed investments move other Commerce initiatives forward, including:

  • Restoration of $5 million to the Strategic Reserve Fund, which the Office of Economic Development and Competitiveness leverages to recruit and retain jobs that our communities depend on;
  • Modest adjustments and technical corrections to spending plans that would help close the gap in funding required by a number of existing programs serving local governments, including Buildable Lands, Surplus Property and Military/Defense Compatibility efforts;
  • An additional outreach position would be provided to extend the ability of the Community Economic Revitalization Board (CERB) to develop the pipeline of rural projects.

As we look forward to 2020, and what we need to do as a state to keep our economy strong and competitive, Commerce is thinking about three themes that will shape our work: equity, regionalism and resilience. I will share more details and progress reports in the weeks and months ahead. As always, I welcome your comments and ideas at any time, and I thank you for your partnership in this important work of strengthening communities.

Happy New Year!

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