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President's Column

Tuesday, November 10

Washington ranks so-so in new ranking of education, transportation and economic vitality

Almost a year ago, a coalition of employer groups launched an initiative called Opportunity Washington to help bring prosperity to all corners of the state. We recognized that while some parts of the state, most notably the Puget Sound region, were enjoying strong economic growth, the recovery was not as strong in other parts of the state.

In fact, in some rural corners of Washington, it felt like the recession never really ended.

Based on feedback from local leaders in communities throughout the state, we concluded that making progress in three specific areas — Achieve (education), Connect (transportation) and Employ (job creation) —would yield the best results.

So how are we doing? Is the state making any progress in those areas?

The short answers: So-so. And yes, we’re making progress, at least in one of the three categories.
Those are the top-line conclusions from a new report card Opportunity Washington just launched comparing Washington state to the rest of the country.

The data-driven analysis, which will be updated quarterly, looked at 16 different measures across the three categories: Achieve (eight measures of education quality and outcomes), Connect (three measures of transportation efficiency and reliability) and Employ (five measures of economic vitality).

After comparing all of the data and crunching the numbers, Washington ends up with a middle-of-the-pack “opportunity score” of 79, just slightly above the median score of 75 (scores range from 0-150-plus). Massachusetts ranks No. 1 in the nation and Alaska comes in last.

The numbers are weighted so Achieve and Employ each account for 40 percent of the total while Connect makes up 20 percent. Washington’s 79 score puts us 24th in the nation. The goal established by Opportunity Washington is to score at least 100, which would rank Washington among the 10-best states in the country.

So we’ve got some work to do if we want to become better than average.

Of the three categories, Washington scores best in education — 82 for a ranking of 18th in the country — thanks to strong fourth-grade reading scores, eighth-grade math scores and the number of associates degrees awarded.

But we’re pulled down by a high school graduation rate that’s well below the median, ranking 40th in the nation. We also rank in the bottom half of all states for the production of bachelor’s and advanced degrees.
Our lowest score comes in the Connect, or transportation, category. Washington ranks 38th in the country with a score of 48. That’s based on average statewide commute times, and the condition of our roads and bridges.

For most drivers, this probably isn’t a big surprise. Commute times in the metro areas can be awful, and many of our roads and bridges are in poor shape. But thanks to this year’s passage of a $16 billion transportation investment and reform package, there is good reason to believe Washington’s score will improve here.

In the third category, Employ, Washington ranks 23rd with a score of 78, just above the median. We do well in terms of private-sector research and development investment and overall entrepreneurial activity, but our higher-than-average business costs drag down the score. Simply put, Washington employers face significant tax and regulatory expenses that make it a challenge to compete in a global market.

Opportunity Washington laid out an ambitious agenda. This new report card makes it clear that we’ve got more work ahead of us.

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