Regional economies, collaboration in the spotlight at WEDA

  • August 26, 2019

It’s always exciting to gather with leaders from local governments, tribes, Commerce’s associate development organizations (ADOs) and other community partners to share our wins, opportunities and new ideas at the Washington Economic Development Association Summer Conference. In addition to participating in two great days of listening, learning and networking, I also had the opportunity to speak to the group.

I shared some positive results from the last season – beginning with our new State Broadband Office, which includes $21 million in new grants and loans to promote digital equity and enable more opportunity and prosperity in rural and underserved communities.

Combined with $500,000 in new microenterprise investment, we can now help our smallest companies – no matter where they are located – realize a chance to become the next legendary Washington “A” list firm.

Collaboration is another key to success, especially around building up and nurturing Washington’s regional economies.

Our first increase in funding for ADOs after more than 10 years of cuts will help! I appreciate the concerted drumbeat that resulted in winning $1 million in new funding for local economic development.

Washington’s economic story is quite amazing when you look at it from afar. Our state GDP growth continues to lead the nation and companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Starbucks continue to innovate and grow their global success stories.

While much of that economic activity is concentrated in the Central Puget Sound, there are stories being written now or are being rewritten in some of the other regional economies around the state.

I was just in the Tri-Cities and met with two companies that are achieving worldwide recognition for their products in value-added agriculture and advanced materials. With the combined assets of excellent companies, WSU’s campus there, PNNL and some incredible engineering and tech talent, the Benton and Franklin County region has the ingredients to set the table for economic prosperity for the next generation.

More examples of successful regional collaboration include:

Tribal leaders from the Suquamish, Colville, Jamestown S’Klallam and Affiliated Tribes of NW Indians led an excellent panel discussion: “Transforming Economic Development for a Changing Workplace”

  • Clallam and Jefferson Region including collaboration with several Tribal Nations and local governments to take advantage of Opportunity Zones
  • Wenatchee Valley Region collaborating on the “Our Valley, Our Future” strategic planning and identifying key focus areas around innovation and business development
  • Pac 5 collaboration among Southwest Washington ADOs in Thurston, Mason, Grays Harbor, Lewis and Pacific counties.

While Puget Sound’s dynamic economic growth no doubt benefits the entire state, we also have a lot to gain by supporting and strengthening the regional economies that we have.

It is great that we continue to gain tech jobs from California. But when firms outgrow the Seattle market, we should be attracting them to Tacoma, Spokane, Vancouver and Yakima instead of seeing them go to Salt Lake, Denver and Detroit.

We need to start talking about how to grow and support our regional economies by building on their unique strengths. One way is to align our resources, including those found in our research institutions, to provide a workforce ready with the 21st century job skills needed to attract and sustain companies primed for the future growth.

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