Employers urged to engage with government, prepare for future at AWB Spring Meeting
Ambassador Nikki Haley delivered a strong message about the power of employers to lift communities, urging a sold-out audience at AWB’s annual Spring Meeting to embrace the power of free enterprise.
“It needs to be said over and over again: Capitalism is the greatest force for ending poverty and lifting up human beings in the history of the world,” Haley said during her dinner keynote address.
Haley, who served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 2017-2019 and governor of South Carolina from 2011-2017, called on employers to engage in government and help shape their communities.
And in this era of strong partisan division, she reminded the audience to appreciate what we have as Americans.
“All this is politics,” Haley said. “It’s just differing opinions. It’s just different ideas. And at some point, everyone needs to step back and remember to be grateful. Because on our worst day, we are blessed to be in America.”
Haley’s remarks highlighted a meeting that saw record attendance, sponsorship support and engagement.
The event kicked off with luncheon keynote address from economist Bill Conerly, who said Washington employers will face many challenges in the coming years, including the risk of recession and major changes to the country’s labor market.The defining issue for the next decade, Conerly said, is a projected lowest growth in working age population since the Civil War. “This is really dangerous. If you want to expand, you are going to have to steal employees from someone else,” he said.
But these risks include many opportunities, and employers who plan ahead will come out better in the end. To be in the right position, companies can start now by planning for slower growth, building a contingency plan with specific trigger points to help guide action, and seize the opportunity to have the most engaged workforce in the industry.
Read more on Conerly’s talk here.
A recurring thread from the lineup of speakers and panel discussions was that for the state of Washington, business is good, but the future needs to be savvy.
Other key takeaways from the AWB 2019 Spring Meeting May 8-9:
- Maintaining support for education and workforce development will support the future of our state’s world-class workforce.
- Focus on economic development and infrastructure will support statewide innovation, entrepreneurship, job retention and creation.
- Building and promoting an enriching workforce culture ensures our quality of place that is second to none.
Balancing these important issues with fiscal responsibility, transparency and stewardship is essential to our state’s global competitiveness.
Agency directors emphasize open dialogue
Agency directors from Ecology, Labor & Industries, and Agriculture provided updates on business-related policy and priorities. AWB’s Gary Chandler, vice president of government affairs, moderated the discussion.One of the main messages from the panel was a willingness of state government to work with the private sector.
Department of Ecology Director Maia Bellon emphasized that she and her department are ready to partner with the business community to solve problems. She even gave out her cell phone number to the dozens of employers in the crowd.
“I’m here to tell you in person, and look you in the eye, that I want to work with you through those different issues that you may have concerns about,” Bellon said. The department’s mission is to promote a healthy environment, in harmony with a strong economy, she said.
“If you have a concern about a certain chemical, just call me,” Bellon said.
Bellon, along with Joel Sacks from Labor & Industries and the Department of Agriculture’s Derek Sandison, shared on their efforts to increase collaboration between their agencies so that business owners can contribute to a thriving state economy.
Sandison explained his agency’s mission, which is to make sure Washington agricultural products are safe and high-quality for consumers, whether those consumers are local or international.
“So, it’s basically a direct service to industry that we provide,” Sandison said.
State lawmakers reflect on the 2019 session
Journal of Business publisher Paul Read moderated a discussion with state legislative leaders including state Sens. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, and John Braun, R-Centralia, and state Reps. Larry Springer, D-Kirkland, and Jacquelin Maycumber, R-Republic. They reflected on the progress and cost of the 2019 legislative session.Billing emphasized that by making investments in higher education and high-quality early learning, the state will in turn set itself up to have a sustainable and growing economy.
“We want a state we’re proud of, a state with great parks, great resources and great schools,” Billing said.
The session brings new investments in schools and special education, forest restoration and mental health programs, and major support for higher education, but state lawmakers differed sharply over for the cost of it.
“Small businesses pay the bill for this budget,” said Maycumber, the House Minority Floor Leader. The last part of the session resulted in new taxes that will add up to more than $2 billion over the next two years and top $25 billion over the next 10 years.
Reflection on the legislative session saw some agreement over the question of transparency in this session’s process. “We need to do better on transparency,” Braun said. Spring agreed, “the crush of the last 48-72 hours is not sustainable.”
Read more on the discussion here.
CEO panel spotlights the PNW workforce, culture
Spokane is a great place to live, work and commute, according to some of its local CEOs.
Leading the second round of afternoon panels, leaders from Numerica Credit Union, Wagstaff, and Pearson Packaging Systems discussed what their Pacific Northwest-based companies focused on to be innovative in their industries, and how each of them was working to develop and retain a strong company workforce. AWB’s President and CEO Kris Johnson moderated the discussion.All three companies work hard to develop a culture of employee appreciation and development.
“The educational component is important. People are not exposed to the right training early enough,” Michael Senske said. As CEO of Pearson Packing Systems, Senske focuses on relentless, continuous improvement to attract the control engineers and technicians who serve in high-value positions.
Education for skilled trades like welding and machining is important for Wagstaff. To develop a pipeline of future workforce talent the company has partnered with a local chamber of commerce to provide community college scholarships for students in technical trades programs.
For the credit union, disciplined internal communications and emphasis on creativity help drive a thriving employee culture. “We do serious work, but have fun doing it,” Numerica CEO Carla Cicero said.
Read more from The Spokesman-Review on this panel.
The future of transportation
Evan Oneto from the FedEx Corporation led the final afternoon panel on the issue of mobility across Washington.Leaders from the Washington State Department of Transportation and the Washington State Transportation Commission joined executives from the Kenworth Truck Company and Uber to share insights on the state of transportation and where the future will take us.
Kenworth’s parent company PACCAR has a long history of pivoting to meet evolving transportation needs. The company started originally making rail cars. Now, they are looking to a future of electric and zero emission vehicles that incorporate “level 4” automation by 2030. Safety and security are the priorities, said Stephan Olsen, who is the company’s director of product planning.
For the ridesharing company Uber, the future is autonomous, electric and shared. “We are trying to make transportation more efficient,” Caleb Weaver said. Weaver is public affairs, US West for Uber and serves as the company’s point person on policy. Weaver emphasized that technology can transform how people get around but having strong state and citywide transportation infrastructure in place is the ideal environment for the rideshare industry.
“Mass transit is great for us. Our biggest competitor is personal car ownership,” Weaver said.
The Department of Transportation (DOT), which partners with 31 public transportation systems to provide more than 220 million passenger trips a year, focuses on providing options. Whether it is city, county or private systems most of the transportation infrastructure across the state was built and installed in the ’50s and ’60s, DOT’s Assistant Secretary for Multimodal Development and Delivery Marshall Elizer said. This makes maintenance and revitalization of those systems important for maintaining open roadways.
A major challenge of paying for road maintenance is declining contributions from the gas tax due to increasingly fuel-efficient vehicles—with just as many, if not more, vehicles on the road. Washington State Transportation Commission’s Reema Griffith shared an update on a pilot study it recently concluded that ran a simulation trial of a usage tax solution that could replace the gas tax.
One very important consideration the Transportation Commission is grappling with is how to roll out creative and innovative solutions without underestimating the cultural implications. Plus, “data security and privacy were the biggest concern for pilot participants,” Griffith said.
Our state’s highways and local roads are part of the recently updated “Building the Economy” report that AWB, the Association of Washington Cities, the Washington Public Ports Association, and the Washington State Association of Counties first produced two years ago.
Record turnout, engagement
The day’s highlight was Haley, arguably AWB’s biggest keynote speaker to date. Approximately 400 guests gathered for the dinner presentation where Haley shared from her experiences as the family bookkeeper, governor of South Carolina, and on the international stage as the former United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations.
She encouraged employers to be actively engaged with elected officials.
After speaking about her life and experiences, Haley sat down with Kim Smith, Boeing vice president, to answer questions about her experience and perspective for an engaging discussion that ranged from international relations to the future landscape of politics and how we can be more united.
Earlier in the evening, Haley joined about two dozen AWB members and state leaders for a Women's Leadership Roundtable, an informal and conversational opportunity for employers to talk with Haley about a wide range of topics.
The record-setting agenda was made possible by an equally record-setting 55 incredible companies joining our presenting sponsor, The Boeing Company, in making the Spring Meeting one of Washington’s premier business events. The two-day event closed Thursday with AWB’s board meeting.
For more on the event, check out this social media roundup, or watch this highlight video: