State needs faster permitting and freight mobility

June 14, 2013 

The collapse of the Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River that ruptured Washington’s main trade route with Canada serves as an unfortunate and timely reminder of how centrally important strong infrastructure is to keeping trade flowing.

Interna-tional trade generates more than 40 percent of all jobs in Washington, making us the most trade-dependent state in the country. The World Trade Center Tacoma is working with groups such as Move Forward Washington in a coalition advocating for trade and infrastructure programs that can further enhance our regional economy.

In order to generate more tax revenue for all other state programs, Gov. Jay Inslee and legislative leaders should place a real priority on investments to expand international trade, which is the true engine of Washington’s economy. Improved freight mobility and fair and efficient permitting processes are keys to greater trade prosperity.

Inslee has made strong commitments to strengthen Washington’s trade interests. In his Working Washington Agenda, he said he would “streamline state government with a focus on growing private-sector jobs . . . identifying how state government can remove barriers and support economic development efforts.”

He has also committed to substantial transportation investments, saying, “There’s little we can do to grow our economy if we don’t address the fundamental need to provide businesses and workers with a reliable and efficient way to get people and products where they need to be.”

This commitment, coupled with the Obama administration’s $50 billion infrastructure plans for fiscal year 2014, could help reduce the time it takes Washington businesses to get their goods to international markets.

We urge the governor to stick to these goals over the course of his administration. In late 2012, the International Competitiveness Strategy for Washington State was published, highlighting areas where we can do better in expanding international trade.

The strategy recommends greater communication, advocacy and coordination on ways to improve transportation infrastructure, port capacity and freight mobility. We encourage the governor, legislators and local leaders to review the plan so that we can all do a better job of smoothing the path for trade-engaged industries.

Now is the time to invest in infrastructure. While there are many important projects, it makes sense to emphasize those that give the greatest economic development return. Those would include the “trade gateway” twins of completing both state Route 167 and state Route 509.

Completing both of these projects would greatly enhance mobility and connectivity for both the ports of Tacoma and Seattle. They are the bare minimum of what must be done if we are to keep up with the huge infrastructure investments being made by competing ports in both British Columbia and the Gulf of Mexico.

With the expansion of the Panama Canal, that competition will only be getting harder. By deferring infrastructure investment, we put our trade prosperity at great risk.

Equally important is for the state to work even more closely with groups like the Trade Development Alliance in Seattle, the World Trade Center Tacoma and Move Forward Washington to help in trade promotion. Unfortunately, the state’s own trade-promotion budgets continue to shrink — so it becomes all the more important to leverage existing resources from nongovernmental organizations that work directly with the private sector in building trade and investment internationally.

Inslee should seize the opportunity to spur Washington exports forward by investing in infrastructure, championing efficient permitting processes and embracing private investment partners.

By applying the lessons of the International Competitiveness Strategy and staying true to his promises, he and other leaders in the state can attract new businesses and investment and create a 21st-century business climate for international trade to continue its rapid expansion in Washington.

By Anthony Hemstad is president and CEO of the World Trade Center Tacoma. He can be reached via wtca.org.

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