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October 24, 2017

Rural Jobs Summit begins with passionate plea to support rural communities

By: Jason Hagey   Comments: 0
Alex McGregor, president of The McGregor Company, speaks Tuesday during AWB's Rural Jobs Summit at Big Bend Community College in Moses Lake. Photo: Brian Mittge/AWB
AWB's Rural Jobs Summit began Tuesday with an impassioned speech from Alex McGregor, president of a century-old agricultural company and staunch defender of farm families and rural communities.

While it is true that the economy is going gangbusters in parts of Washington, it's not the case in other places, McGregor told a packed meeting room at Big Bend Community College in Moses Lake. 

More than 200 people, including more than two dozen state legislators and agency officials, came out for the summit, which is the continuation of a discussion AWB started in March.

"Fast-paced economic growth does not extend far beyond the borders of our largest cities," McGregor said, setting the stage for a day-long agenda aimed at reversing the trend.

Despite the uneven economic landscape, McGregor is hopeful about the future because of a "tenacity that verges on stubbornness" and "unquenchable optimism" of the people who live in rural Washington.

"We'll pitch in together and achieve rural economic success," he said. To do that, McGregor laid out a five-point plan. 

No. 1: We must educate people about the value rural areas bring to the state. Agriculture is the largest employer in the state and second only to aerospace in exports, McGregor said.

No. 2: Let's start by vowing to do no harm. McGregor called out three policy discussions, including the need for water, discussions about taxing carbon emissions and the business and occupation (B&O) tax.

If one of our kids wants to build a house on the family farm, is a hydrology study really necessary? McGregor asked, alluding to the state Supreme Court's Hirst decision. The decision is creating delays and uncertainty about permitting, and hampering growth in rural Washington.

Regarding a potential carbon tax, McGregor warned that officials should "tread carefully" if they want to keep a food processing industry in the state.

Finally, McGregor said the failure to pass along a B&O tax relief measure sends a "we don't care" message to rural communities, particularly in difficult times.

No. 3: We must cast a wide net. McGregor cited the #RebuildRural coalition, which is advocating for infrastructure investment in rural communities, including broadband. 

He also called for bipartisan support of "Farm Bill '18" which he called a "nutrition, rural development, forestry, horticulture, jobs, trade and food aid" bill.

And McGregor voiced support for exports, saying the U.S. needs to move forward with bilateral trade agreements if we're not going to be part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. "We export about 90 percent of what we grow on our place," McGregor said.

Finally, McGregor said officials must keep rural jobs a key priority of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

No. 4: We must reach out to rural communities like never before. As the economy erodes in rural communities, so does the quality of life, schools and local services, McGregor said.

No. 5: In agriculture-based counties, some jobs are going unfilled because employers can't find skilled workers. "We've got the jobs," McGregor said. "We need your help to fill them."

McGregor, who was featured in AWB's 2017 Grow Here campaign, is one of the state's biggest advocates for small towns and farm families, and a self-avowed optimist. He closed his remarks with a rally cry.

"Together, we've got a lot of kinetic energy," McGregor said. "Let's focus it and make sparks fly."

Full video of McGregor's talk is available via AWB's Facebook page, or watch below (be sure to turn on the sound):