Gov. Jay Inslee says Grays Harbor needs to take a page from the playbook of the Montesano Bulldogs football team.
“When the stadium burned down, they didn’t pack up,” Inslee said. “Montesano went and won a state championship. And I think that’s a symbol of what this community is about. It just does not give up. And I’m not going to give up this year on financing the education of our kids on the Harbor. I’m not going to give up this year in finding out how to finance our transportation system so that this Port can grow and I’m going to come back here in the years to come and and we’re going to see the success of businesses and the growth of education right here on this Harbor. That’s a great legacy and I’m dedicated to it.”
Speaking before a packed audience inside the Rotary Log Pavilion in Aberdeen for the annual State of Grays Harbor breakfast hosted by Greater Grays Harbor Inc. Inslee said Grays Harbor “is a resilient community.”
“When timber became tough, people didn’t pack up and move to Chicago,” Inslee said. “They stayed here and realized how deep the roots are. When the recession hit, people didn’t just pack up and move to Seattle. The business community here looked for ways to use their entrepreneurial skills and grow.”
“We’ve got entrepreneurial people here on the Harbor,” Inslee told the audience. “I see John Plaza, who is doing some good work at Imperium Renewables. I know we have challenges at the paper mill, but I know we have people willing to tackle those challenges and try new things. We have panel companies doing new technologies and all these things are up and down. When we start new technologies, it’s up or down. The aircraft industry was up or down for a while, but we have people willing to step up to the plate and tackle new entrepreneurial challenges.”
Inslee pointed out, “It doesn’t matter who’s in charge in Washington, D.C. — Republicans or Democrats. It doesn’t matter what year it is. This Port will always be the closest to Asia, no matter what happens.”
Inslee said he felt confident that the Port was proving itself as “an incredible asset.”
“Who would have thought 20 years ago that the (Port of Grays Harbor) would ship its 100,000th car to Asia?” Inslee said. “That is a pretty good thing coming out of Grays Harbor.”
Inslee also used the occasion to stump for some of his budget priorities and said lasting economic growth will take bi-partisan cooperation and a friendly state operating budget that eliminates tax breaks for those who simply aren’t creating jobs. With the state Legislature on a two-week break before it reconvenes, he’s calling on residents to make sure their local legislators know that “we cannot and will not balance the budget on the backs of children and the elderly.”
“Our simple challenge — and I want to help everyone in Grays Harbor work for it — is we want our kids staying here,” Inslee said. “We don’t want to educate them and have them driving up to Seattle or Tacoma. We want them to have a future here. We want to have our grandkids here. And I think we have good opportunities on the Harbor for a lot of good reasons.”
Inslee said he doesn’t want education spending to come at the expense of funding for social programs that help students with the basic necessities of life. There are 27,000 homeless kids in the state of Washington right now and, he noted. If the budget approved by the Senate becomes reality, funding would be lost that provides childcare for at least 350 kids on Grays Harbor, he said.
“We need to choose schools over out-dated tax breaks,” Inslee said, “rather than loopholes that are bleeding our school system dry.”
Inslee said that a “staggering 25 percent” of youth are dropping out of school and the state needs to do better.
The governor also stressed that the Legislature needed to fully fund the new science and technology building for Grays Harbor College, noting that he’s funding it completely in his own budget. Both the Senate and House budgets include the project, but not at full funding.
“Wouldn’t it be a great day if we open a building dedicated to science, technology, engineering and math right here in Grays Harbor?” Inslee said.
Also speaking Monday at the State of Grays Harbor was Greater Grays Harbor, Inc. CEO Tim Gibbs, who called on Harborites to work together on divisive issues to help push down the county’s 13.1 percent unemployment rate.
“While it’s understandable we won’t always agree, we can no longer afford to fight each other,” Gibbs said. “Our community has lost its ability to talk to each other. … We have to find ways to find collective solutions.”
Gibbs says there’s “strong indicators” that things are improving on the Harbor and released a new”economic vitality index” crafted to show tourism, real estate, retail and employment trends.
“We have to re-invent ourselves,” Gibbs said.
Congressman Derek Kilmer also told the audience that the gridlock in Congress must stop because it’s hurting rural communities like the Harbor. And, to the applause of the audience, he said it is possible to help the environment and increase harvest levels in the federal forest at the same time.
“I see a forest products industry, while smaller than it used to be, remains a critical leg of our economic development stool,” Kilmer said. “I’ve been out to the mill at Cosmopolis and Rayonier and Sierra Pacific and we need to take steps that strengthen our timber industry.”
Kilmer also said that needless regulations that hurt small businesses need to be re-examined, specifically citing regulations that treat Craisins produced in Markham as candy, instead of dried fruit.
“They’re both super tasty but one is more healthy,” Kilmer said. “One is a fruit product. And they need to get that.”
And he touted his own new legislation, called the “Skills Investment Act of 2013,” designed to help workers save money for education and job training through the establishment of worker-owned, employer-matched savings plans called Lifelong Learning Accounts. Under the legislation, contributions would be tax free, and both workers and employers would get tax credits for their contributions to the accounts. It would be similar to 401ks for workforce development, in that they are an entirely voluntary way to help workers upgrade their skills and enable them to improve their training and work their way up the wage ladder or to find a new job.
Kilmer also cited a tax that ports pay known as the Harbor Maintenance Tax, which should be going to help infrastructure at places like the Port of Grays Harbor, but he says is often used for other purposes.
Kilmer said part of his job is also to fight for a national freight policy that reflects the importance of ports and waterways and rail and roads.
“We need to make those improvements,” Kilmer said. “When I’m here I see innovation. Good economic development is like good hockey. Good players skate to where the puck is going to be. I’ve been out to Westport Shipyards and I know they’re facing tough times right now, but they’ve got a great innovative product and that is where the marine industry is going to be. “