AWB Policy Summit Takeaways
President & CEO
Last week I attended the Association of Washington Business’s Policy Summit. It’s an annual event that attracts business leaders from around the state to focus on policy issues of importance to employers. I was honored to serve as the Chair for the 2018 Policy Summit event and wanted to share some highlights from the experience.
As I listened to panel discussions at the summit, I was struck by the diversity of the employers represented: major Washington companies alongside small business owners, leaders from every corner of the state who represent industries like technology, health care, manufacturing, professional services, agriculture, retail, aerospace and more. AWB does a great job of bringing together employers of all types to collaborate on our common interests.
There were a few major themes coming out of the panels and discussions:
Education and Workforce
Many businesses are feeling a pinch in attracting and retaining a qualified workforce. As our labor market continues to tighten in our state’s growing economy, experts are projecting a significant shortage of skilled labor in the next decade. It underscored the important relationship employers have with our educational system. Conversations centered around how to increase educational attainment for Washington students. Today 40% of our high school students do not seek any post-secondary training. Educators and employers are motivated to change this. The Washington Student Achievement Council, for example, has set a goal to have 70% of Washingtonians seeking some type of post-secondary training or education by 2023. This will require continued collaboration among K-12, higher education, community and technical colleges, apprenticeship and internship programs and employers.
President Kirk Schultz of Washington State University and President Ana Mari Cauce of the University of Washington took the stage together to talk about the importance of higher education funding now that McCleary is behind us. They both made points about the importance of having two strong public research universities contributing highly skilled graduates to the workforce as well as expanding access for first generation students. Both presidents expressed the need for Washington to make some significant investments in our state’s higher education system this biennium to keep it healthy.
The State of Washington’s Economy
While Washington’s economy is strong, a closer look at the map shows the disparities that exist among our 39 counties. While unemployment rates are below 4% in counties like King, Snohomish, Chelan, Douglas, Adams and Asotin, the map shows other counties where rates remain stubbornly high (6% or higher) in Ferry, Pend Oreille and Stevens.
AWB’s Rural Jobs Initiative seeks to support job creation, retention and workforce development in rural areas. State investments in infrastructure will continue to be important for rural job growth as will improving internet connectivity/broadband. One bright spot was hearing from Esina Alic, CEO of Insitu, Inc., an unmanned aircraft manufacturer headquartered in Bingen, Washington (in Klickitat County).
It could be that as congestion grows in central Puget Sound, other companies may consider expanding into some of our more rural counties that offer many lifestyle benefits.