Beyond Puget Sound: Building economic strength as a region

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Returning to the Seattle Chamber of Commerce’s Regional Conference at Suncadia this past week was bittersweet for me. It was here, at this time last year, that we lost a dear friend, Senator Scott White.

I was so proud that the Chamber established The Senator Scott White Regional Leadership Award, this year awarded to Rep. Nick Harper from Everett. Scott’s widow, Alison Carl White, presented the award, and spoke about her first year without Scott. She impressed us that she and her children were thriving, thanks to support from family and friends. Alison gave a beautiful tribute about Scott which will assure that his work, ethics and love of his community will continue on. He would have been proud of her. I know I was, and am.

Despite this loss, it was good to be back at the conference with other regional leaders to continue the work we started last year. It was a direct result of the panel last year that we created and went on the Cascade Curtain Study Mission this past summer.

The Cascade Curtain study mission, sponsored by the Chamber, took a group of about 30 leaders from both sides of the state to visit key industries and institutions in Yakima, the Tri-Cities, and Walla Walla. The goal was to help us understand the political divisions between the Puget Sound region and the rest of the state — and to remind all of us how truly interdependent we are, economically.

For example, I learned that 92 percent of all U.S raspberries come from Washington state, as well as 74 percent of hops, spearmint, and wrinkled seed peas, as well as 60% of apples, grapes, cherries, and pears. This past year 109 MILLION boxes of apples were picked in Washington, generating more than $7 billion of apples and apple-related products. Our state is truly feeding our nation.

Back in Suncadia Friday, Rep. Bill Hinkle and I spoke about our trip and what we learned: Yakima firing range provides a major portion of the military sector’s $3.1 billion in wages for our regional economy; 12 million CASES of wine were produced last year in Washington, at an economic value of over $8 billion.

WSU’s Tri-Cities branch offers a Viticulture and Enology major contributing to critical research and development opportunities in the wine industry. Who knew that 27,000 vehicles cross Snoqualmie Pass every day, of which roughly 7000 are trucks carrying $80 billion in goods? That’s why we need a financially sustainable transportation infrastructure. Predictions are for 41,000 vehicles making that crossing by the year 2030. Rep. Hinkle and I agreed on three very important issues affecting both East and West: immigration, education, and transportation.

We agree that our goal must be to forge our regional leadership into a team that will act effectively on behalf of our entire region and the state as a whole, to address immigration, education, and transportation. In future blogs, I will address each of these issues and action steps we can take.