Washington State erred badly by not boosting economy

Economic-development programs, funds slashed when times were better

Washington state let its economic-development programs slide when times were fat in the Puget Sound area, and the state’s economy is suffering today as a result, contends Scott Morris, president of Avista Utilities here.

By Addy Hatch Spokane Journal of Business

Morris, one of two Spokane representatives on the 14-member Washington Economic Development Commission, says the state in 1994 slashed the budget of the Department of Community, Trade, and Economic Development and reduced the agency’s business-recruitment funding. At the time, the Seattle area was booming, and the state didn’t think such activities were critical, he says.

Since then, however, Seattle’s economy has faltered, as has Spokane’s, but the state’s severe cash crunch has made it difficult to restore funding for economic development. Instead, Morris says, CTED’s funding was cut again, by 13 percent, in the 2001-2003 biennium.

Morris made his remarks at the Spokane Area Economic Development Council’s annual meeting this month.

“The state is at a critical crossroads,” Morris says. “State (economic-development) funding and programs have been severely weakened.”

What’s more, he says, CTED has had eight leaders in eight years and has undergone four reorganizations since 1994.

“Reorganizations create upheaval and a lack of focus,” he says. “It’s no wonder they sort of lost their way.”

Compare that to Oregon, he suggests, which maintained strong statewide economic-development and marketing programs even when times were good. In that state, more than 50 percent of the qualified leads that are pursued by local economic-development groups come from the state, Morris says.

Likewise, it’s no coincidence that Raleigh-Durham, N.C., has experienced such strong growth, he says: The state of North Carolina has an active, effective economic-development program.

“What any economic-development professional would say is that local economic development is tied to how well the state is doing with economic development,” Morris says.

Washington has no statewide marketing program and has a relatively paltry $5 million to contribute to local infrastructure projects designed to attract new businesses, he says. Oregon has more than $70 million in its infrastructure fund, he says.

Morris suggests that business people here urge the Legislature to restore economic-development funding. He also wants the state to try to create incentives for businesses to relocate here, even though Washington’s constitution prevents the use of some such methods.

“It’s important to have at least some tools in your toolbox,” Morris says.

Further, he wants the state to take a long view toward economic development, and not just embrace the concept when times turn bad.

“You have to stay the course in economic development,” Morris says.

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