Our Voice: Middle of the pack isn’t good enough

The news that our state ranks in the middle of the pack compared with other states on a recently released scoreboard is a bit disheartening, if not entirely surprising.

When it comes to recruiting new businesses and residents — as well as retaining them — we have some work to do and we know where many of the shortcomings lie.

It was still a tough thing to hear, however, when Opportunity Washington recently turned a spotlight on those weaknesses.

Nobody likes to have their flaws flaunted for all to see. But in this case it just may be the kind of wake-up call our state’s leaders need.

The analysis compared data from 50 states across three categories Washingtonians say are most important: Achieve (education quality and outcomes), Connect (transportation efficiency and reliability) and Employ (economic vitality).

Washington dropped to 28th overall with a score of 68 out of 100. Utah took the top spot with a score of 127.

Twenty-eighth out of 50 is not competitive, no matter the test or contest. That means more than half of the states in the nation have more favorable overall conditions on these three critical fronts.

We all gravitate to achievers and those who continue to improve. And even though Washington did improve on some fronts, other states showed greater gains. We actually dropped from 79 to 68 this past quarter. For those keeping score, that is the wrong direction.

Opportunity Washington is backed by a statewide coalition known as WashACE “that believes the continued health of Washington’s economy and the shared prosperity of its citizens depend on smart public policy and strategic investments.” The coalition includes the Washington Roundtable and the Association of Washington Business.

The coalition’s goal is to have Washington rank in the top 10 with a score of more than 100 in each of the three categories. It’s a lofty goal given the state’s current standing but one we can certainly get behind.

Education is a hot topic in our state as lawmakers grapple with how to fulfill the mandate to fund basic education. A survey of state residents late last year shows an emphasis on the need to improve graduation rates and make sure students are mastering high-school level skills in order to achieve that. Getting them out of high school with the necessary knowledge base is the first step. But then we see another failing, with one of the more embarrassing findings of our state’s rank at 38 in the production of baccalaureate degrees per capita.

“Our state’s education system fares well — coming in above the median — but Washington can and must be better,” said Washington Roundtable President Steve Mullin.

We’ve never thought the median was a comfortable place to reside, and would like to live in the above average category. And we’re willing to work to get there.

Our state is making small strides with the passage of a transportation package last year that should lead to some improvements. But slow commute times on the West side continue to plague that score.

Our governor may be one of the biggest threats to improvement with his ideas on fish consumption, minimum wage and water quality that could impact our state negatively.

Slow and steady wins the race, and we hope Washington can start making deliberate steps toward improving education, transportation and economic vitality. Our state’s success depends on it.