When the Washington State legislature convened January 11, there were some new faces, a busy agenda and a reliance on technology to make the remote session work.
For the time being, House and Senate meetings will continue to be virtual, debates and votes will take place from home offices, and public testimony will happen via Zoom. (That means things may move more slowly, but the potential for greater public involvement is a bright spot.) And all eyes will be on COVID-19 pandemic response and economic recovery, along with other essential issues that affect our communities and citizens.
When the Washington Economic Development Association (WEDA) set its priorities for the 2021 legislative session, it was through a much different lens than in past years. This year, WEDA revised its legislative goals to focus on the most critical actions lawmakers and agencies can take to recoup and grow living-wage jobs, restore communities and spark re-investment.
“With new jobless claims tripling their pre-pandemic levels and more than 333,000 people still out of work, Washington State’s economy is truly in crisis,” said Suzanne Dale Estey, WEDA executive director.
“Now is the time to rebuild our economic vitality, increase the resiliency of our economy and strengthen the economic development ecosystem at the state, regional and local levels.”
Here are WEDA’s top economic recovery legislative priorities for 2021:
- Strengthen the economic development ecosystem. Over the last five years, local Associate Development Organizations (ADOs) across Washington state, like the EDB, have helped more than 681 businesses expand or develop new facilities and assisted 233 startups. Those companies have invested nearly $1.7 billion in land, buildings and equipment and created close to 12,000 new jobs. WEDA will push the legislature to support and protect state-level leadership and funding for economic development, and build on 2019 legislative investment to restore ADO funding from $3.3 million to $4.3 million per year.
- Foster catalysts for job recovery and growth. Small businesses aren’t typically mentioned in most economic legislative agendas, Dale Estey said, but the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified awareness that they are the backbone of our economy. Right now they need additional assistance, short-term and for the long haul. Additional infrastructure financing tools and programs will help propel business recovery, retention, expansion and recruitment at the regional and local levels. WEDA also supports strategies to help the devastated tourism, hospital and aerospace industries; state public works programs to support recovering and expanding businesses; broadband capacity initiatives and investment; and increased investments in road and transit infrastructure, maintenance services.
- Increase prosperity for all of Washington. Many high-wage industries have weathered the COVID-19 crisis, but rural and underserved communities struggle without access to resources. It’s vital the legislature supports the Washington State Department of Commerce Diversity, Equity & Inclusion outreach and investment proposals and protects the .09 percent “rebate” of locally generated state sales and use tax.
“Suzanne is helping everyone think as one,” said EDB President Bruce Kendall. “We’re lucky to have WEDA on the front lines in Olympia as a unified voice for economic development.”
View WEDA’s full 2021 Economic Recovery Legislative Agenda.