Opinion

‘Washington-made:’ Is it just a slogan?

Mark Martinez
Mark Martinez

Boeing’s recent layoff announcement saying it could cut its Washington workforce by up to 10 percent sent another shock wave through our invaluable skilled worker community. With the current employment climate in the state, leaders must do everything within their power to stop the continued erosion of our workforce.

We must develop balanced policies that support diverse job creation and recognize the economic importance of workers in every career sector.

In an increasingly competitive, global economy, it is critical that we position ourselves to be steady and predictable – yet adaptable – to attract those willing to invest in our economy, particularly in a state where one in four jobs is tied to trade.

First, this means a predictable, finite review timeline for proposed projects that sets reasonable expectations for both investors and the workforce. Currently, permit reviews of infrastructure projects can drag on for years. The Millennium Bulk Terminals project in Longview has been awaiting approval for more than four years. This delay sends a troubling message that Washington is inhospitable to investment and the job creation that comes with it.

Second, we must be adaptable. There is now a growing, vocal resistance in communities to retool shuttered industrial sites, which limits opportunity for the blue-collar worker economy. The Port of Tacoma tried to convert the site of a former aluminum smelter into a methanol refinery plant. That proposal is now off the table, along with the high-paying jobs, benefits and tax revenue that would’ve come with it. This scenario is becoming all too familiar in communities across the state.

Meanwhile, the tech industry and private investments are thriving in the shadow of the Space Needle. One of Washington state’s defining characteristics is that we are a place where things are grown and made. Workers associated with industry and manufacturing deserve the same support and investment opportunities as white-collar workers.

What’s more, there’s a real need to invest in job training, apprenticeship programs and continuing education. The troubling trend toward deindustrialization indicates a lack of understanding about the important contribution these workers make to our communities and economy. On the job, skilled workers do the work set before them, while also training the workforce of tomorrow through apprenticeship and other training programs.

Not all of our children are college bound. Many skilled workers do not complete degree programs at the local college, so training programs through industry are critical. Yet without the private investment projects, these jobs and training are not possible. Simply put, we are in very real danger of losing an entire sector of our economy as skilled workers “age out” of their professions. Skilled worker economic contributions should be recognized and continue in the future.

The federal government doesn’t help matters. Just this week, the Army Corps of Engineers took an unprecedented step and denied the Gateway Pacific Terminal project a permit – even before releasing the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. The entire point of an environmental review is to identify potential problems and to give all parties an opportunity to discuss and mitigate problems. To outright deny a permit and forgo the process is unprecedented and sends a chilling message to those who would considering investing here.

Washington’s economy is on dangerous footing. State leaders are creating a very inhospitable and uncertain regulatory environment for those who want to invest in business ventures here and employ our skilled workforce. Leaders must dedicate themselves to creating an economic environment that provides predictability for investment, adaptability to the changing needs of a global economy, and equally valuing our blue- and white-collar workers. This will ensure an environment that fosters opportunity for all.

Larry Brown is the legislative and political director for the Aerospace Machinists Union District Lodge 751. Mark Martinez is president of the Washington Building Trades Council, AFL-CIO.

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