State government, private sector should be partners

Glimmers of recovery are finally taking hold in our state economy and nationally. Gov. Christine Gregoire’s Council of Economic Advisors reported this past week that bank lending to businesses and consumers is easing, home prices are stabilizing, the manufacturing sector is on the rebound and Moody’s ranked Washington one of the first states likely to recover from this recession.

All positive signs, but we’re not out of the woods yet.

We know employment and state revenue will lag the overall recovery. So what can we do to grow and improve jobs in Washington state?

That’s the clear, simple mission of the new Washington State Department of Commerce.

I suspect we will agree that this is far easier said than done, but what’s indisputable is that this new department’s success hinges on a dedication to collaboration and a renewed focus on the needs of our business community.

The transformation of this agency, beginning with our name change from Community, Trade and Economic Development in late July, demonstrates Gov. Gregoire’s ongoing commitment to reform and streamline government.

The elimination of 68 boards and commissions and creation of a Department of Commerce “laser focused” on jobs and economic development are milestones. And we stand ready to do more.

Work begins with strengthening existing partnerships and forging new ones. Over the summer, Commerce conducted an unprecedented statewide outreach tour in which we hosted nearly 100 separate meetings with small and large businesses, local governments, housing and community service agencies, economic development organizations, utilities, statewide associations and interest groups, legislators fellow state agencies and internal staff.

As the new guy at Commerce, there was certainly no shortage of advice, feedback and ideas directed my way.

From Burlington to Spokane, patterns of concern and opportunity emerged as we explored our state’s strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats, and listened to how you think the state can do better for business.

We talked about the importance of improving the connection between policy making in Olympia and the 480,000 or more registered businesses around the state that create most of the jobs in our economy.

We shared and tested a set of principles for moving Commerce and Washington state forward.

These remain core to our thinking as we develop our recommendations report to the governor and the Legislature on Nov. 1.

Retaining our state’s current businesses and promoting their growth should be a key priority.

Things won’t go our way 100 percent of the time, but as top national rankings like the Forbes.com “best states for business” consistently show — Washington is a great place to do business.

Government doesn’t create most jobs – businesses do. Over 80 percent of our state’s economy comes from private-sector activity, and businesses contribute about half of the taxes the state collects each year.

The policy created in Olympia should reflect a clear understanding of the government’s important role in shaping our state’s business climate.

Our entire community benefits from a healthy private sector with quality jobs.

Strong economies require strong communities. Businesses will not locate or thrive in communities without adequate infrastructure, workforce and community services.

Switching from CTED to Commerce doesn’t mean the “community” is no longer important. Our agency includes a number of programs that invest in the critical foundation for jobs and those activities are more important than ever in these difficult economic times.

Government should not pick winners and losers. In general, government should avoid policy that backs specific companies or even specific technologies when designing economic policy.

The more specific policy gets, the more likely we are to do more harm than good.

Always be opportunistic. Planning is important, but we must be flexible to seize golden opportunities like the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.

Washington is currently 10th in receipt of stimulus funds. We are still in the first stages of this game-changing economic investment, but we’re well-positioned to accelerate into the economic recovery.

Finally, we talked about collaboration, at all levels, from community to community, peer to peer, public and private, with regional partnerships and bridging federal, state and local government lines.

We are in this together. The changes underway at Commerce are focused on breaking down barriers and thinking differently about how we do business.

As we’ve traveled throughout the state, it’s clear we have some tremendous opportunities to work together to capitalize on our history of innovation, our economic diversity and strong industry sectors to keep Washington open for business and globally competitive.

Rogers Weed was appointed in March to lead the newly-named Washington State Department of Commerce.

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