March 23, 2020
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Virtual Workforce Summit brings together information on COVID-19 and more

As the state’s workforce shifted to telework and government officials rolled out social distancing recommendations, AWB’s Workforce Summit event made a digital shift as well to deliver content on workforce challenges to Washington employers. The event was timely, as it allowed our speakers to also address the growing workforce challenges in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over 70 attendees logged in from across the state to hear from 17 Washington business leaders.

U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-WA, kicked off the event. Morning keynote speaker Amy Leneker’s message about emotional health in today’s workforce and how to find joy in your work set an inspirational stage for the day.

"Given the difficulty we're all feeling, maybe right now it's about surviving and lowering anxiety. Asking for help is brave. Giving help is brave," Leneker said.

Many session speakers and panelists turned the focus of their sessions to the coronavirus response, and the things employers can start doing now to prepare their business and their employees for what may come as the pandemic plays out. "A lot of businesses are looking for 'new resources,' but these SBA loans are already out there," said Kaylee Purcell, Director, Center for Business and Innovation, Thurston EDC, during the Business in Washington: Ask an Expert panel. Attendees also got a chance to ask a lawyer questions, with Laura Morse, a founding partner at Jensen Morse Baker PLLC. She discussed recent information on adjusting to new overtime rules, the minimum wage increase and Paid Family Medical Leave. “These are trying times, but AWB appreciates the opportunity to be there for you, to work with you. We appreciate our partners like Laura at their firms who are willing to be here and share their thoughts,” said panel moderator, AWB’s Bob Battles.

Some processes, like filing for employer-sponsored H1B visa applications, are still in place with deadlines that have not been altered in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, says Dustin O’Quinn from Lane Powell. His session covered updates to immigration workforce policies, where employers are looking at significant uncertainties as travel restrictions keep workers from following normal processes for renewing visas.

Trinity Parker delivered the lunchtime keynote address on diversity and inclusion. Using Symetra Life Insurance Company as a case study, Parker gave some examples of programs companies can leverage to increase diversity and community within their company cultures. “By 2025, millennials will make up 75% of the global workforce. 47% of millennials say they are actively looking for diversity and inclusion when sizing up potential employers,” said Parker.

Many workers, while are not sick, are still facing challenges including child care or caring for elderly or ill family members. AWB’s Amy Anderson moderated a panel on dependent care challenges and discussed what some companies are doing to help their employees find and afford quality child care. And for providers, it’s all about how they can keep their child care centers open for those who need it, while minimizing risk to workers and families.

The day wrapped up with a panel discussion on addressing the skills gap in the manufacturing sector. Panelists discussed various pathways their businesses offer to address the gap.

“I want to thank AWB for making this a virtual event, there’s been a lot of good topics and conversations that I’ve listened into on today,” said moderator Lynn Strickland, Executive Director of the Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee.

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Be There for Local Business

In this unprecedented time of coronavirus, we need to be there for local businesses

By Maribel Perez Wadsworth and Kevin Gentzel, USA Today

The safety measures that have forced us indoors and away from others to help stop the spread of COVID-19 are the right thing to do. We're confident our strength and resilience will carry us through. But we also recognize our small business owners need us more than ever as they take their own precautions.

To emerge from this with our communities strong and intact, we need to ensure that what make them special -- the coffee shop down the road, the local car dealership and our neighborhood music teachers -- are able to stay afloat.

While we may not be able to give them our patronage in person right now, there is much we can do to show our support.

Visit your favorite restaurant's website and purchase gift cards for yourself and others to keep some money flowing to their bottom lines. If those restaurants are still offering takeout or delivery, make a point to order from them now and again soon. And get gift cards for massage studios, arts and crafts stores, local jungle gyms and myriad other businesses.

If your local shops sell their merchandise online, make purchases -- even if the goods won't be available right away.

If you're shopping online for things you'll need while in self-quarantine, like home exercise equipment or activities for the kids, seek out local businesses to make these purchases...

Read the full column in USA Today
Speak Up for Clean Power

Don't let Snake River dams be a coronavirus casualty. Call in to save them

By The Tri-City Herald Editorial Board

In our community-wide effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus, we must not become so focused on the pandemic that we neglect other, critical issues facing the Tri-Cities.

Of upmost importance is protecting the Snake River dams, which continue to be in jeopardy.

Last week's time for phone-in comments on the recently released, federal draft Environmental Impact Statement has come and gone, but there are three more scheduled over the next two weeks, and Tri-City participation is crucial.

Considering many people have hunkered down in a semi-quarantine, this could be a good way to spend some time. Why not prepare a statement and send in your testimony, either online, by mail or by calling it in?

Knowing you are helping to protect reliable power production and the region's economy could be invigorating. And it could take your mind off the disease for a little while...

Read the full editorial in The Tri-City Herald