Guest Commentary: Emphasis on rural economics needed in Washington state
-November 22nd, 2017
While Seattle is growing rapidly, our rural areas continue to struggle. They don’t have the corporate giants such as Amazon.com, Microsoft Corp., and Boeing Co. creating jobs and economic opportunities.
Today, there is a rejuvenated effort to bring prosperity to Washington’s rural communities.
Writing in The Daily Yonder, published by the nonprofit Center for Rural Strategies, Bill Bishop reports on the markedly different employment patterns in the nation’s urban and rural counties.
Bishop found that nearly half of the nation’s rural counties lost jobs during the last four years.
“In all, there were 8.2 million more jobs in 2015 than four years earlier. But 96.5 percent of that gain has been in the cities. Rural counties and micropolitan counties (those with towns between 10,000 and 50,000 people) added just 280,000 jobs between 2011 and 2015.”
Opportunity Washington, a business coalition led by the Association of Washington Business and the Washington Roundtable, says the Seattle metro area continues to drive the state economy, but the balance of the state roughly mirrors the U.S. average.
“This divergence in income clearly demonstrates the need for policies designed to create new and greater opportunities for all Washingtonians, regardless of where they live,” Opportunity Washington concluded.
The Washington Policy Center found agriculture accounted for $51 billion, or 13 percent, of our state’s economic activity in 2015. WPC determined 160,000 jobs were tied to agriculture, which was more than Boeing and Microsoft combined.
In 2014, our state exported $16 billion worth of food and agriculture, WPC reported.
While agriculture is the cornerstone of the state’s rural economy, opportunities to reinvigorate our timber industry have been crippled by lack of federal and state timber sales and threatened by vast wildfires.
In late October, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz released a 20-year-plan, which includes logging and thinning, to reduce the number of wildfires and improve the health of 1.25 million acres of forest land in Eastern Washington.
Alex McGregor, who runs a 138 year-old family agriculture business, told AWB’s Rural Jobs Summit in Moses Lake there are new opportunities for rural areas.
State leaders need to focus on reducing the mountains of conflicting, confusing, and overlapping regulations, which neither towns nor counties can afford to administer and which overwhelms farmers, processors and manufacturers.
He added that state manufacturing tax rates ought to apply to all manufacturers.
State funding for roads, bridges, and other infrastructure need rural emphasis, and support for education and training are essential for rural communities
Finally, our state elected officials need to be cautious about new sweeping legislative proposals, such as creating carbon taxes. They would have a heavy impact on farms and food processors.
McGregor concluded that he is encouraged about jobs and economic development in Washington because now lawmakers have a renewed sense of their importance.
Don C. Brunell, a business analyst and columnist who lives in Vancouver, is the retired president of the Association of Washington Business. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.