Success stories across the state teach lessons in creativity, collaboration

A few of the locations around Washington state I visited in the last few months. Looking forward to touring the rest of the state.

Spending time in different communities throughout the state and listening to the people who live there is an endless source of inspiration for me and members of the Commerce team. The passion, creativity and collaborative spirit of local leaders and residents teaches those of us doing the bulk of our work here, in the often insular world of Olympia, volumes about what it means to strengthen communities.

As we begin gearing up for the upcoming legislative session, my staff and I are reflecting on lessons learned and success stories from around the state. We will continue to use these experiences to inform our policy work and improve our programs and services.

I want to share just a few highlights from the past month on the road in Washington as we prepare to start November traveling abroad on a state trade mission to China and Japan.

Leading in sustainability, clean energy

Northport School embraced clean energy technology with a biomass wood-pellet boiler to save on heating costs and reduce harmful pollution emissions from an aging and inefficient system that left students wearing overcoats in class. A $400,000 Commerce grant helped make the project a reality, and I was delighted to attend the community’s celebration. The Spokesman-Review ran a great article:

Another stop on this trip featured a tour of Vaagen Timber in Colville with our rural and wood products sector lead Brian Hatfield. Russ Vaagen showed us the new manufacturing facility that is turning out cross-laminated timber made from waste forest products, providing a sustainable and profitable construction material – and creating good jobs for the community.

On the other side of the state, I got an update from Director Dan Schwartz and researchers leading work to advance solar energy, battery storage and other technologies to transform our electrical grid at the University of Washington’s Clean Energy Institute Test Beds in Seattle. Our state Clean Energy Fund helped establish CEI with a grant in 2013.


Our research institutions are crucial to our state’s economic future, but we need to continue supporting K-12 STEM education as well. In Wenatchee, I was pleased to see and celebrate STEM in action with the “Galactic Farmers” from Almira-Coulee-Hartline middle school, winners of the Future Technology Leader award at the 2019 Greater Wenatchee Area Technology Alliance Annual innovator Awards. GWATA recognized 75 leaders in five categories for students, teachers and businesses.

Inland Northwest Partners hosted a fascinating look at the “creative economy” at their annual meeting in Hayden Lake, ID. We learned a lot about using the arts as a catalyst for creating jobs and quality of life. Many communities including Chewelah, Connell, Tekoa, Othello, Rockford, Colfax, Garfield, Newport, Rosalia, Kennewick and Spokane Valley, and Commerce economic development partners such as Greater Spokane Inc., Avista Utilities, Pullman Chamber of Commerce and Washington Small Business Development Centers participated. More than 30 communities are currently pursuing “creative districts.”


Creativity is hallmark of all successful problem-solving, especially when combined with collaboration. This was on full display at the kick-off event for Ellensburg’s CenterFuse, the revitalized partnership for economic development in the region. I was delighted to join the Kittitas County Chamber, Central Washington University, local business owners, Ellensburg Mayor Bruce Tabb and other elected leaders as they embark on new paths to create a business environment that will support established entrepreneurs and attract businesses and jobs.

Broadband equity is crucial for economic and community vitality. Our broadband workshop in Davenport was one of a series Commerce is doing in rural communities throughout the state to help leaders envision ways in which new broadband infrastructure grants can open new opportunities for businesses, education and health care. The room was full and great ideas flowed. Read more in the Spokesman-Review.

Economic development and community development go hand-in-hand. I joined Rep. Derek Kilmer, Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier and Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards at a South Puget Sound Opportunity Zones summit. Commerce and our partners have focused on using the federal OZ tax incentive program to drive capital investment in projects that will have lasting impact on communities. We’re working with a number of rural and urban OZ projects statewide with public and private funding partners, tribal governments and philanthropy investors. Learn more about Washington’s Opportunity Zones

Lack of affordable housing is a growing problem and side effect of our state’s strong economy. This is true in communities of all sizes, from Seattle to Spokane. Solutions take partnerships, policy makers and political leadership working together. All three elements were there at the 2019 Housing Washington Conference in Spokane last month.

I was privileged to share some of the awesome work our team at Commerce is doing to strengthen communities through our programs addressing affordable housing and homelessness.Affordable housing was the topic of a Ruckelshaus Center workshop I participated in earlier, also in Spokane. I appreciated the opportunity to join leaders in this important conversation


And, thank you to the Association of Washington Business for inviting me to join a great discussion on trade policy at their annual policy summit in CleElum. The conversations with participants from the public and private sector will help bolster our messages of fairness and cooperation in our upcoming trade mission to China. From agriculture and aerospace to timber and technology, about one in three jobs in our state is tied to international trade. With ongoing uncertainty in the other Washington, efforts by state and local government, business and community leaders to strengthen and build upon important trading partner relationships is crucial to keeping all of our state’s regional economies vibrant.

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