To unlock our state’s potential, programs and policy must address the needs of underserved rural communities. The interdependence of urban and rural economies is measurable and significant. The state must identify ways to strengthen rural communities so job creation occurs organically.
Many rural Washington communities are experiencing demographic transformation as economies based on natural resources face greater regulatory challenges and slimmer margins. As opportunities shrink in these traditional industries, the younger generations move away from rural areas to find job opportunities in urban centers. Having the right education and training available helps people learn 21st century skills and stay in place. Vocational learning opportunities should start early in the K-12 system.
Community and technical colleges (CTCs) are critical resources for bringing more earning power into rural economies. They are broadly distributed across the state and accessible to underserved communities. Many participants are low-income and first generation college students. Twenty eight percent are parents, 43 percent work full or part-time while attending classes, and 42 percent are people of color. Recently CTCs have moved into an economic development role that includes contract training, small business development, and entrepreneurship programs.
- Seize the Mass Timber Opportunity. Create incentives for builders to use advanced wood products made in Washington. The state’s timber industry has been in decline for over 20 years. A sustainable wood product revolution will create economic opportunity for Washington’s struggling rural communities while providing environmental benefit through carbon sequestration. Take action to facilitate in-state production and use of cross-laminated timber.
- Broaden Tax Incentives for Distressed Regions. Washington currently offers tax abatements for manufacturing and research expenses in qualifying regions. Expanding the incentives to include the service sector will further encourage job growth in high unemployment areas. By widening the sales tax “set aside” for rural areas, county governments can engage private investment opportunities.
- More Entrepreneurial Support. Legislators should consider an administratively simpler B&O tax, such as a Single Business Tax, with accommodations for startups and small businesses that create jobs. Fund export assistance vouchers which help small and medium-sized businesses enter foreign markets. Encourage participation in the state’s Startup 365 program, Score Business Mentors, Fund Local, Make It In Washington, and U.S. Department of Energy Small Business Vouchers.
- Make Asset Maps Readily Available. Many communities have created asset maps of which residents are unaware. Encouraging local communities to distribute these effectively will empower local entrepreneurs.
- Clear Barriers to Statewide 5G Internet. Washington needs to upgrade its telecommunications infrastructure so that rural areas will become viable places to live and work with stronger internet connections. This requires counties, cities, and the state to minimize permitting delays and regulatory hurdles.