When you live, work and raise a family in one of the best regions like we have in northeast Washington, you take an interest in rural economic development and the opportunities for your children and neighbors.
When you represent those citizens in the state Legislature and you see entire generations being exported to other parts of the state because of a lack of family-wage jobs, it becomes a passion.
Northeast Washington traditionally has some of the highest unemployment rates in our state. Over the years, state and federal environmental policies, along with ever-expanding bureaucracies, have taken their toll on our natural resources-based economy. In addition, we’ve seen very few new manufacturing jobs in decades.
Rural economies do better when manufacturing plays a significant role. Recreation and tourism will always play a part, but they tend to be seasonal or cyclical. We need “anchor” jobs that can support families and provide generational economic opportunity.
In an effort to help bring new manufacturing jobs back to my community, I sponsored legislation to give HiTest Sand a limited public utility tax credit to see if it makes economic and environmental sense to locate its new silicon smelter plant in rural, northeast Washington.
Silicon is needed for many of the eco-friendly solutions deemed worthy by today’s society to replace or work in concert with traditional technology and energy sources. Solar panels, aluminum, computer chips and over 7,000 other industrial and commercial applications use smelted silicon. It is part of the new “green economy,” something our governor and environmental protagonists around the state continue to support.
But producing silicon is an energy-intensive process. With our state’s clean, environmentally friendly and affordable hydropower, Washington is an attractive prospect for this product.
Building a silicon manufacturing plant would take about two years, employing up to 400 people. Once completed, the plant would have approximately 150 employees and my legislation requires that wages should be about $10,000-$20,000 above the local annual average.
However, some of the same people who laud the green economy as a cure-all for rural economic development are now some of the same ones objecting to the local manufacturing of one of the green economy’s main ingredients.
This duplicity is frustrating. I understand some of the concerns voiced by opponents of the silicon smelter, but to that, I must say, let the process play itself out. Washington state has some of the most stringent standards for new manufacturing in the nation and HiTest Sand will have to meet those standards at every turn.
I fully support a transparent, robust public process where the pros and cons can be discussed, debated and weighed for all to see. I will work to ensure the company goes through every permitting process required under state law and that both environmental and public health are at the forefront of public debate.
Despite much outside noise and politically motivated interference, there are only two possible outcomes to HiTest Sand’s investments in northeast Washington. It can either abide by our state’s strict environmental policies designed to protect public health and thus help our local, rural economy, or it can’t meet the necessary environment, health or safety protocols and thus doesn’t get to operate in our region.
Either way, I am proud of affording HiTest Sand the opportunity to prove it can bring family-wage manufacturing jobs back to my legislative district. I will never apologize for seeking ways to spur economic opportunity for my constituents and their children.