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Published on Monday, November 13, 2017

City leaders present at rural jobs summit

The Association of Washington Business (AWB) held a rural jobs summit in Moses Lake to discuss the rural economy. Two city officials participated in a panel alongside two county commissioners to discuss the local government perspective. Twisp Mayor and AWC Board member Soo Ing-Moody, and Kelso City Manager Steve Taylor shared their experiences living in rural communities. Mayor Ing-Moody shared that access to rural broadband, workforce housing, and limits to workforce and financial resources are the primary barriers to economic development in her area. Taylor shared that the Kelso-Longview area has primarily struggled with an unpredictable regulatory environment that has kept industry away. Specifically, three “mega-projects” have met significant delay due to permitting issues. Taylor would like to see streamlined permitting processes at both the state and federal levels.

Streamlined permitting processes was a theme that resonated throughout the day at the summit, and not only with the local government panel. Multiple presenters from industry and government argued that they have struggled to incentivize and spur development in their regions when faced with the regulatory environment. Many argued that rural areas frequently depend more on the use of natural resources for economic development, uses that are met with more stringent regulatory processes. This in turn creates additional barriers to economic development in these areas. While many asked for better, and more streamlined, regulatory processes, others also suggested assistance could come in the form of a “rapid response” office set up within government that could assist local communities when responding to large economic development opportunities.

In addition to industry and local government representatives, many state legislators attended the summit. The final panel of the Summit included Senate and House leadership. Speaker of the House Frank Chopp (D-Seattle), Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler (R-Ritzville), Senate Ranking Minority member of the Agriculture, Water, Trade and Economic Development Committee Maralyn Chase (D-Edmonds), and House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox (R-Yelm). They discussed their visions for economic development in our rural areas. Senator Schoesler argued that it boils down to several key priorities, fixing the water issue in rural areas (Hirst), access to broadband, and streamlining the regulatory environment. Representative Wilcox focused much of his remarks on farming, a subject he is intimately familiar with. Speaker Chopp and Senator Chase touched on what their caucuses have done to help spur rural development, as well as shared ideas for the coming session.

As we move into the 2018 legislative session it is clear rural economic development is on the minds of many – industry, local government and state leadership. Economic development is one of AWC’s priorities for the 2018 session, and we will continue to follow this issue closely as we work towards ensuring all of our communities are given opportunities and tools for success.