What would our state economy look like without Boeing Co.? Without the export of wheat, apples and other agriculture products?
These are not hypotheticals. We are at a pivotal moment in our state’s history that requires us to determine our approach to industrial and trade regulation. We must clearly answer this question: Is Washington state open for business, or isn’t it?
Recently, Gov. Jay Inslee has pushed to create incentives for Boeing to build its 777x airplane in Everett, including investments in transportation infrastructure. This is a move we wholeheartedly endorse. However, Boeing is only one part of our state economy. Most communities in Washington do not have jobs making airplanes. Many parts of the state continue to face high unemployment and low opportunities for good paying jobs, and they deserve the help of our elected leaders as well.
Trade is a prime driver of our state economy. In fact, more than four in 10 jobs in Washington are dependent on the movement of goods in and out of our ports. We should use this regional strength to lift our economy statewide, not just in major population centers. Businesses looking to export their products to Asian markets should see Washington as a state that rolls out the welcome mat.
Look at Spokane County. The area needs new job opportunities. Increased trade can help provide them. But that only happens if we provide a business environment that attracts those trade projects away from other ports, both American and Canadian.
There are new export projects proposed in both Cherry Point and Longview that would dramatically expand the export capacity of our region, setting the stage for economic growth, job creation and continued competitiveness with other ports such as those in British Columbia. However, they’ve been subject to a good deal of debate due to opposition to one of the products the terminals would ship – coal.
Rather than debating the merits of expanding our export infrastructure, we’ve seen a political circus. Some have proposed a massively expanded scope of environmental review for these projects, in an effort to slow them down or stop them altogether. However, few consider that these regulatory proposals will have dire consequences for our state if approved.
These proposals include reviewing all freight movement associated with the projects and treating increased train use as a burden for the entire region instead of a sign of a growing economy. In addition, newly proposed reviews would try to look at use of the project on a global scale, a logistical nightmare that could stretch the review process out indefinitely.
This is uncharted territory: Reviews like this have never been proposed anywhere in the country. If instituted, there is no doubt they will have a chilling effect on businesses looking to site trade projects in our state. Simply put, businesses will look at our burdensome review process and realize other locations offer a more reasonable regulatory atmosphere.
Many of our communities have economies fueled by more traditional industries such as agriculture. And they have the right to rely upon an ability to utilize the state’s port, road and rail transportation infrastructure every bit as much as the residents of the more populous counties.
Expanding export capacity is a fairly noncontroversial proposition when it concerns most ports. There is demand for coal overseas, but that’s not the only product. Demand for agricultural products is expected to skyrocket as populations grow. Should our farmers need to fear being drawn into a similar firefight for their increased use of rail to get their products to port?
If fundamental fairness matters in how the government applies regulations, then the state has a practical choice: either apply the same laws and standards to all projects, or come up with different standards for different projects. Logically, a uniform and consistent application toward regulatory review will lead to certainty for businesses and, thus, growth. This means a scope of review that is practical and expeditious, grounded in facts and science. Policy should not be made on a project-by-project basis.
Our state has long been known for its trade heritage. We pride ourselves on it. It is a driver for our economy, for our labor force, for our ports and waterfronts. Now is not the time to turn back from that historic commitment and put up the sign that Washington is “Closed for Business.”
The choice is ours.
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