Washington Commerce Director Bonlender announces planned departure

Bonlender’s tenure includes rebuilding state’s economic development apparatus, launching new ways to fight homelessness, establishing new capital programs in energy, mental health and early learning.

Olympia, WA – Brian Bonlender today announced his planned departure as director of the Washington Department of Commerce. He has been in the position since Feb. 1, 2013, and his last day with Commerce will be Jan. 15, 2019.

Bonlender, 48, said that while the Commerce job has been the most rewarding he has ever had, after six years it is time for a more sustainable schedule with his wife and two young children.

“This has been an incredible opportunity to serve Washington communities, and a true honor to serve Governor Inslee in this capacity,” Bonlender said. “I am so proud of the work Commerce does every day to strengthen communities. Since the depths of the Great Recession, I know they will continue this impressive work well beyond my tenure.”

Bonlender assumed the helm of Commerce during the depths of the Great Recession. During his leadership, Commerce increased company recruitments by 250 percent, led the country in small business export assistance, and created industry sector economic development strategy. Since January 2013, Washington has had the #1 growing GDP in the country, the #1 state in wage growth, and the economy created 500,000 jobs.

More recently, Bonlender and Commerce have focused on the housing affordability and homelessness challenges facing the state. Over the past several years, Commerce moved new and existing resources into interventions that increased efficiencies by 40 percent. Commerce also is pursuing innovative strategies to encourage more new home construction to address housing supply crisis.

“Washington has the best economy in the country and has also been named the best place to work.  Brian and his team at the Department of Commerce have played a big role in that,” Gov. Jay Inslee said. “I thank him for all his work on behalf of Washingtonians, and I wish him the very best in future endeavors.”

Bonlender, who grew up in Yakima and graduated from Washington State University, served as Gov. Jay Inslee’s chief of staff during Inslee’s congressional days in Washington, D.C.

Under Bonlender’s leadership, the agency:

  • Reimagined, rebuilt and reinvigorated the state’s economic development apparatus.
  • Become national leaders after launching new and innovative ways to fight homelessness.
  • Successfully established new capital programs in energy, mental health, and early learning.
  • Helped shore up and improve programs in housing and local government infrastructure.
  • Strengthened and enhanced international trade relationships for Washington businesses.
  • Focused the agency’s core mission of strengthening communities and put in place tools for a continuously improving culture.

“I feel lucky to have worked with such a talented group of passionate public servants,” Bonlender said. “I am confident Washington will continue to thrive because of their dedication to helping others.”

Connie Robins, deputy director, will serve as interim director until the governor fills the position.

Commerce currently has 314 full-time equivalent employees and has a biennial budget of nearly $1.6 billion. Commerce is the one agency in state government that touches every aspect of community and economic development: planning, infrastructure, energy, public facilities, housing, public safety and crime victims, international trade, business services and more. The agency works with local governments, businesses and civic leaders throughout the state to strengthen communities so all residents may thrive and prosper.

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