In the Legislature, the first rule of fostering a healthy business climate should be “do no harm.” Creative, energetic people will succeed and communities will thrive if government, for the most part, stays out of their way.
Unfortunately, our state government has a history of meddling in the free market to the detriment of hardworking people. The focus of our efforts in the Legislature over the last two years has been to remove the obstacles to economic development and new-job creation that exist in our state, from business and occupation taxes to health care to land-use policy.
In our quest to take advantage of good economic conditions by attracting business and creating jobs, we’ve done some things that seem to be working
If there is one remaining challenge to improving the business climate in our state it is this: creating a diverse economy that is more immune to economic cycles, one in which all regions of our state can participate and benefit.
I live in Lewis County, which has the highest unemployment rate and lowest average wage of any county on the Interstate-5 corridor. Despite our proximity to the thriving local economies in Vancouver and the Puget Sound region, we still rely heavily on large single employers for our economic base.
The Centralia Steam Plant, which accounts for 10 percent of the tax base in our county, is up for sale and its immediate future, despite our efforts in the Legislature to maintain 20 more years of operation, remains uncertain.
Our communities need economic diversity and a stable job market. I plan to introduce a comprehensive economic development bill in the upcoming session that will provide assistance on a number of fronts.
It would provide business recruitment, development loans and business assistance for rural, distressed areas. It would also authorize a study on the impact of state regulations on these high unemployment areas and work to mitigate that impact through regulatory relief.
While compliance with certain regulations is necessary, the regulatory environment should not stand in the way of our citizens’ livelihoods. It makes sense to weigh the need for certain rules and regulations in areas where they serve only to inhibit economic development.
A second piece of legislation I plan to introduce is a common-sense bill that would require state government to make a good-faith effort to purchase goods and services from Washington businesses. If the state is buying airplanes or building materials or widgets, it should buy those made in Washington by people who live and work and pay taxes in Washington.
The state does shop at home for the most part, but this statutory language codifies our support for our business community. It says that government should be an expediter of your success, not an obstacle to it.
If elected officials take this approach, they will more readily identify opportunities to help our economy grow and create jobs for our citizens.
Author Richard DeBolt is serving his second term as a Republican legislator in the state House of Representatives. He is also executive director of the Twin Cities Chamber of Commerce, Centralia-Chehalis.