September 21, 2018

Another informative, thought-provoking Policy Summit concludes this week

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Attendees mingle during one of many receptions during the AWB Policy Summit, held Sept. 18-20, 2018, at Suncadia Resort in Cle Elum. (Photo: Brian Mittge/AWB)

This year’s Policy Summit theme was “Policy, people, place.” And, the content matched up perfectly.

The event kicked off Tuesday with a keynote speaker and panels focused on education, from early childhood learning to K-12 and the higher education system.

For the second time in two years, presidents Ana Mari Cauce of the University of Washington and Kirk Schulz of Washington State University addressed attendees and sent a unified message on the importance of supporting higher education.

Both presidents said they hoped that now that the state has complied with the McCleary K-12 education funding court ruling, the state’s postsecondary education system would be the priority when lawmakers convene for the 2019 legislative session.

Ana Mari Cauce, president of the University of Washington, and Kirk Schulz, president of Washington State University, join Tim Schauer, CEO of McKay Sposito, who moderated the University Presidents panel discussion.
“Quite frankly we have been doing everything we can to keep costs down while increasing high-cost degrees” in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, Cauce said. “We can’t keep this up without state investment, and it is as simple as that.”

Jan Yoshiwara, executive director of the State Board for Technical and Community Colleges, also raised concerns about higher education funding, noting that as teacher pay in the K-12 system increased this year many instructors in the community colleges are now being paid less than teachers in grade and high schools.

Chris Reykdal, the state superintendent of public instruction, put an emphasis on rethinking the K-12 system to provide students with a host of pathways to lead them to careers or postsecondary endeavors after graduation.

Esina Alic, CEO of Insitu, Inc. speaks during the CEO Panel. She noted with a laugh that anyone wanting to escape the traffic problems of the Seattle region could join her business in the rural south-central town of Bingen.

On Wednesday, politics and quality of place took center stage in a day full of content that began with a morning keynote from Kristen Soltis Anderson, a noted pollster, TV commentator and author, who offered an in-depth look at the midterm elections and insights into what pollsters actually do.

She was followed by a panel of CEOs who spoke about the challenges they face, from traffic in the central Puget Sound region and how it’s changing the workplace from a “boots on the ground” office to a virtual office where employees telecommute.

Land use and Growth Management Act (GMA) experts spoke about the need for affordable housing and a restructuring of the Buildable Lands section of the GMA to accommodate expected population growth today and into the future.

One key question raised was: Is the GMA meant to constrain growth or plan for it? Panelists all agreed the answer is unclear.

“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,” said Clay White, a principal planner at LDC Inc.

With population growth concentrated in the central Puget Sound region, infrastructure thought leaders shared their views on moving people and goods around the state, and some eye-opening stats.

To handle congestion for future growth, Marshall Elizer, assistant secretary for multimodal development and delivery at the Washington State Department of Transportation, told the group 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.

Evan Oneto, senior government affairs representative at FedEx Corporation, discussed autonomous vehicles and their future use to move freight.

He said that kind of technology is not ready for deployment.

“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.”

Jennifer Golbeck, Ph.D., professor and director of the Human-Computer Interaction Lab at the University of Maryland, gives the lunchtime keynote.
The afternoon sessions began with a sobering, and sometimes humorous, look at the human side of cybersecurity with Jennifer Golbeck, professor and director of Human-Computer Interaction Lab at the University of Maryland.

She told the crowd that just because you don’t have a social media profile that doesn’t mean social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others aren’t gathering data on you.

Smartphones are one culprit.

“Our smartphones collect huge amounts of data,” Golbeck said. “Apps can turn on the microphone and listen for key words, pull your location data and more.” Smartphones, she said, are "essentially spyware devices we carry around.”

She was followed by panels featuring top economists at D.A. Davidson Companies, who noted Washington’s top GDP performance, which is leading the nation for the second year in a row, but cautioned that trade tensions and tariffs could present risks to the state’s trade-driven economy.

Attendees also had the chance to hear from employers and experts from state Employment Security Department (ESD) and the state Department of Labor and Industries (L&I).

Kelly Fukai, regional affairs representative for Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, joins the panel discussion on Washington’s new Paid Sick Leave and Paid Family & Medical Leave programs. 
The panel discussed the Initiative 1433 Paid Sick Leave, which is overseen by L&I and took effect Jan. 1, 2018, and the new Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) program, overseen by ESD and currently under construction.

Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories’ Kelly Fukai explained how the new state PFML program changed how they addressed paid leave for their employees nationwide.

She said that once employees outside of Washington state learned of the new program, phone calls came in asking if that same benefit would be provided to them. And, she said, there was a concern that employees in places like Lewiston, Idaho, would ask to transfer to Washington to have access to the leave.

SEL is waiving out of the state program to offer a more generous leave program to their employees. “We’re offering a more robust benefit package…and we’re looking forward to communicating that to our employees,” Fukai said.

ESD and L&I asked employers to contact them with questions, so they can better prepare answers and guidance for some of the scenarios they’ll be hearing about with both leave programs.

The afternoon was capped off with a panel that discussed the state’s tax structure and one featuring mayors from Bremerton, Wenatchee and Spokane, who spoke about the challenges and opportunities facing their communities, including affordable housing, infrastructure and workforce recruitment.

Full recaps of both days of content are on AWB’s Olympia Business Watch blog here, here and here.