Make state’s international competitiveness a priority

February 10, 2013 

As the Washington Legislature considers what policy decisions and investments will create the most jobs and grow our state’s economy in 2013, Washington’s competitiveness in the global marketplace must be a top priority.

International trade is the single largest driver of our state’s economy, and the Legislature must create policies that make Washington a great place to do global business.

Forty percent of jobs in Washington are tied to trade, according to a recent study released by the Washington Council on International Trade and the Trade Development Alliance of Greater Seattle. That’s up from one in three jobs in the late 1990s.

In fact, Washington now has the most trade-supported economy in the U.S., thanks to our globally focused companies, highly competitive goods and services, well-run logistics networks, skilled work force and close proximity to Asia and Canada.

The importance of trade is no secret to Central and Eastern Washington. Because of the incredible agricultural production east of the Cascades, Washington is the third-largest agricultural exporter in the U.S. The east side also offers much more than agriculture, exporting billions of dollars’ worth of machinery, transportation equipment, legal services, international tourism and other goods and services every year.

Although trade is the backbone of our state’s economy, our Legislature generally has underdelivered when it comes to prioritizing key policies and investments that will enhance Washington’s international competitiveness.

For example, businesses and farms in Central and Eastern Washington depend on efficient, reliable access to Western Washington ports to export their goods to the rest of the world, yet vital highway projects such as Highway 167, Highway 509, the North Spokane corridor and the Columbia River Crossing lay unfinished and without funding.

In addition, Washington State University and our state’s other colleges and universities, which prepare our work force to be globally competitive, are massively underfunded and our state’s ability to market itself to foreign investors, tourists and potential customers of Washington businesses has been slashed. We are now the only state in the country without state tourism funding. We cannot afford to continue to neglect these crucial elements of our trade-based economy.

Though state resources are scarce, we must make targeted investments where they matter most. Washington’s international competitiveness is our greatest economic strength, and we need to reach out to members of the Legislature to remind them how important it is to support policies that create a vibrant international trade climate for the whole state.

For example, we need a comprehensive transportation package with investments in key freight mobility projects, appropriate higher education funding for the creation of a globally competitive workforce and new resources for promoting our state and its businesses to the rest of the world. When people refer to Washington as the most trade-supported economy in the nation, it’s because they know our businesses, large and small, rely on customers in markets the world over.

We must recognize the benefits of trade for Washington and act accordingly. Our competition in the U.S. and abroad certainly does. If we do not invest today to build and sustain the key elements of our trade economy, we will lose the business opportunities and prosperity of tomorrow.

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