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September 19, 2018

Politics, quality of place kick off full day of Policy Summit

By: Bobbi Cussins   Comments: 0

Kristen Soltis Anderson, author of “The Selfie Vote” and co-founder of Echelon Insights, gives the AWB Policy Summit breakfast keynote on Sept. 19, 2018, at Suncadia Resort in Cle Elum. (Photo: Brian Mittge/AWB)

It was a morning of data – political trends, growth management, business changes and the future of infrastructure across the state – to illustrate what it takes, today and into the future, to ensure Washington state is a great place own and operate a business, work and raise a family.

The second day of AWB’s annual Policy Summit at Suncadia Resort opened with a morning keynote by Kristen Soltis Anderson, a noted political pollster, author and TV commentator. She explained the complexities of political polling and gave a detailed look at the landscape for the 2018 mid-term elections at the congressional level.

While pollsters sometimes get a bad rap, Soltis Anderson said her job is to get the data to show what voters really think. That means using the right method to reach the right people “to find out what is moving people, those swing voters and provide timely data.”

Only 9 percent of people respond to political polls, Soltis Anderson said, but the good news is that they are very similar to the 91 percent who don’t, except they are more likely to vote.

The bottom line in all the data: There are a lot of moving parts for both Republicans and Democrats, toss-up races in red and blue states and a lot of time between now and the November elections.

CEO Perspective

Esina Alic, CEO of Insitu, Inc., joins Brad Sawatzke, CEO of Energy Northwest, and Lucas Mack, CEO of 4th Avenue Media, along with AWB Board Chair Michael Senske, CEO of Pearson Packaging, who moderated the CEO Panel at the AWB Policy Summit on Sept. 19, 2018, at Suncadia Resort in Cle Elum.

She was followed by a panel of CEOs moderated by AWB board Chair Michael Senske, CEO, Pearson Packaging Systems. Panelists included Esina Alic, CEO, Insitu Inc.; Lucas Mack, founder and CEO, 4th Avenue Media; and, Brad Sawatzke, CEO, Energy Northwest. They offered insights on workforce challenges and changes, including the difficulties with housing affordability and roadway mobility.

Insitu is located in rural Bingen, which can make it hard to attract talent, but "once people get there, they don't want to leave," Alic said.

Housing affordability is problematic, she said. But the company is innovating to keep and attract the workforce they need, such as providing a flexible schedule and for employees who prefer to live in the closest urban area, Portland, they now provide a bus to and from the facility.

Mack, whose company is located on Mercer Island, pointed to two issues impacting his ability to attract and retain talent: pay disparity and traffic.

“It’s a fascinating time right now,” Mack said. “I spoke to a 24-year-old making $200,000 at Facebook in Seattle and then I spoke with a similar worker making $55,000 per year. The pay disparity makes it hard to compete for talent.”

In light of that, Mack said his company has shifted its energy and enthusiasm to its staff. That means offering attractive amenities, such as telecommuting and changing meetings to times with less volumes of traffic. One of his staff just moved to Boise. To accommodate the move and retain the quality employee, the company implemented the use of teleconferencing.

As someone who works in a male-dominated industry, Sawatzke said his company is looking at how it can address child care issues to attract more women to the field.

“We’re very interested in exploring child care. We see that as a tremendous challenge to bringing more women into the field,” Sawatzke said.

Much of what is causing the shift in workforce and workplace amenities – like flexible schedules and telecommuting – is population growth, lack of affordable housing and the need to address buildable land issues under the Growth Management Act.

Growing Pains

Heather Burgess, managing member and attorney at Phillips Burgess LLC, moderates the panel discussion on Growth Management: Population, Workforce & Housing with, from left: Clay White, principal planner at LDC, Inc.; Joseph Tovar, the project co-lead at the Road Map to Washington’s Future; and Alexander Casey, a policy advisor on Zillow’s Economic Research Team.

The mid-morning panel, “Growth Management: Population, workforce and housing,” covered those challenging aspects.

It featured Heather Burgess, managing member and attorney at Phillips Burgess PLLC, who moderated a discussion with Alexander Casey, policy advisor for the Economic Research Team at Zillow Group; Joseph Tovar, project manager for The William D. Ruckelshaus Center; and, Clay White, principal planner at LDC Inc.

The panelists agreed that the Growth Management Act (GMA) has left counties and companies in conflict about land use, growth and how to encourage the growth needed to accommodate future population growth across the state.

Casey started the panel with a presentation on housing data in the Seattle region and how housing values.

“Home values are up 30 percent since the crash” Casey said. “And there will continue to be robust growth of up to double digits,” which he said will extend from Seattle to Spokane. The one bright spot, he noted, is that there looks to be a cooling off of rent increases, which are up 55 percent since 2012.

The question today, in light of the population growth and concentration of job is: Is GMA meant to constrain growth or plan for it?

Where and how communities grow is a function of the GMA, including the Buildable Lands provisions in it.

“If we want to constrain growth, then we need to encourage growth where it’s allowed. That raises very difficult issues to grapple with, such as growth in areas that may not want it,” White said.

He added that urban growth and buildable lands issues have already impacted school citing and a discussion about land designated for industrial use.

Given authority and funding from the Legislature, Tovar’s group will head out across the state to hold 50 meetings to discuss what is working with GMA and what is not – and how it differs in regions across the state.

“What we hear is generally two things: people love where they live and have a strong sense of place,” Tovar said. “And, they say, ‘we’re not Puget Sound.’ Which raises the question: Should flexibility be allowed in some areas and not in others under GMA?”

Tovar said one issue that is not being discussed in growth is infrastructure, like water lines and adequate roadways, to accommodate the growth expected of the private sector to build homes and businesses.

Tovar’s group will present a plan to the Legislature in June 2019 on growth and how to address confusion and conflicting provisions in the GMA and overlapping regulations within the Shorelines Management Act and other laws governing growth.

Building for the Future

The Infrastructure panel featured Pearse Edwards, acting senior director of public affairs at the Port of Seattle; Marshall Elizer, assistant secretary for multimodal development and delivery at the Washington State Department of Transportation; and Kurt Beckett, deputy CEO at The Northwest Seaport Alliance. Evan Oneto, senior government affairs representative for FedEx, moderated.

Infrastructure was the focus of the final morning panel, moderated by Evan Oneto, senior government affairs representative at FedEx Corporation. The panel featured Kurt Beckett, deputy CEO at The Northwest Seaport Alliance; Pearse Edwards, acting senior director of public affairs, Port of Seattle; and, Marshall Elizer, assistant secretary for multimodal development and delivery at the Washington State Department of Transportation

As the lifeblood of commerce, a functioning transportation system – ports, roadways, rail and air – is critical.

Today, the major concern in the central Puget Sound region is traffic.

To handle congestion for future growth, Elizer said the state would need to add more than 300 lane miles of freeway and a maximum of four lanes in each direction throughout the Puget Sound region alone.

Beckett said movement of freight to ports would be aided by the completion of Highway 167 and 509 interchange and by improvements to the Interstate 90 and Highway 18 interchange.

As the ninth-busiest airport in the nation and cargo growth up 12 percent over last year, Edwards said upgrades to the infrastructure is underway.

They include everything from replacing the 1950s baggage system to roadway improvements and a look at an addition of a new terminal with 19 new gates.

Evan Oneto, senior government affairs representative for FedEx, moderated the Infrastructure panel at the AWB Policy Summit.

Autonomous buses, Edwards said, could lead to better moderation of traffic flow to the airport.

But, Oneto said, that kind of technology won’t be online, at least in his industry in the near future.

“People aren’t too keen on 80,000 pounds of cargo moving down the road without a driver,” Oneto said. “There will be a change, but not in the near future.”

Elizer agreed. “It will be two to three decades before the automated system is online,” he said.

One thing was clear: The challenges facing the state – from traffic to affordable housing and technology to moving goods efficiently – are complex. Some will be solved through legislative action, yet others will need work at the county and local level to accommodate growth and retain the quality of place that’s uniquely Washington state.