September 26, 2019

Policy Summit brings together employers to unify, strengthen and lead

By: Lori Maricle   Comments: 0
The 2019 Policy Summit dinner keynote was given by two White House chiefs of staff: Reince Priebus (at left), White House chief of staff under President Donald Trump (and longtime head of the Republican National Committee) and Denis McDonough, White House chief of staff under President Barack Obama. Their keynote ended the second day of the 2019 AWB Policy Summit, Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019, at the Suncadia Resort in Cle Elum. (Photo: Brian Mittge/AWB)

The state's premiere policy event wrapped up September 19 at the beautiful Suncadia Resort in Cle Elum. AWB’s annual Policy Summit brings together employers and policy experts to build connections with fellow business leaders from across the state and learn about the current outlook on issues that impact employers and communities. Attendees were treated to an exceptional lineup of speakers and activities featuring expert panels, former Gov. Gary Locke, insights from Windermere's chief economist, lunch keynote speaker GoldieBlox Founder and CEO Debbie Sterling, and two former White House chiefs of staff.

There was also plenty of time for AWB members and other business leaders to make the kind of connections that lead to new relationships in business, civic engagement and political progress.

The event began with a day devoted to trade, exports and education. Former Washington Gov. Gary Locke had a fireside chat-style conversation with AWB President Kris Johnson. Their wide-ranging talk included plenty of discussion about trade and China -- a relevant topic for Locke, who served as the U.S. Secretary of Commerce and also as America's ambassador to China. (TVW video)

Washington Department of Commerce Director Lisa Brown led two panel discussions on trade -- the first with trade representatives from Canada and Japan (TVW video) and the second with leading Washington exporters in the fruit and grain industries (TVW video).

Tuesday's events concluded with a talk by Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal, who discussed the push for career-connected education, among other topics (TVW video).

Economist still prefers Washington to ‘anywhere else’

Matthew Gardner, the chief economist for Windermere, gives the breakfast keynote at the 2019 AWB Policy Summit.
Wednesday's events began with a talk on the economy from Windermere Chief Economist Matthew Gardner, who looked at trends and the possibility of a recession in late 2020 (TVW video).

“Are we likely to have a slowdown? Yes, but we are not there yet,” Gardner said.

The economist agreed with predictions that there will be real income growth going forward, spurred by the current job market. “If we want to hire and keep good people, you have to pay them. This will translate into spending,” he said. This will push the economy slowdown into late 2020. He also noted that the country has seen 122 months of growth, and with the historical cycle of five to seven years between recessions, “we are due.”

Gardner addressed the trade war, and touched on the trends in the state’s economy, our aging population, and the strained housing market.

He predicted that while U.S.-China trade talks scheduled for October are a step in the right direction, issues with China are unlikely to be resolved soon. As for Washington, the state as seen a significant increase in population from people moving here from other parts of the country.

The Washington housing market is attractive to Californians, Gardner said, and warned that not enough single-family housing was being built. He also noted that for every dollar spent building a house, 25 cents went to regulatory fees, which reduces the profit incentive for developers to build in that housing category. This also has an adverse impact on first-time buyers, making it very hard to get into the market. Gardner shared data that showed all but four counties in the state of Washington are out of the price range for first-time buyers.

Other trends for Washington show growth next year, but it will be small, and traffic is going to get even worse. But despite the gloomy outlook for the gridlock on Madison Avenue in Seattle, the economist was still rosy on the future of our state.

“Yes, there are some hurdles, but I prefer to be here in Washington as opposed to anywhere else in the country,” Gardner said.

Energy, infrastructure and taxes

Jason Thackston, senior vice president for energy resources at the Avista Corp., speaks during the “State of Energy” panel at the 2019 AWB Policy Summit.
The State of Energy panel (TVW video) was especially topical, as a proposal in Seattle aims to curb use of natural gas. Experts in energy supply pointed out that during times of peak demand, more than half the residential energy used in Seattle comes from natural gas. During times of peak demand -- January and July -- the frigid or sweltering weather patterns also mean that the wind isn't blowing, meaning that wind power isn't an option.

The panelists agreed that current battery technology is not able to accommodate where the state policy makers are aiming for clean energy. Despite this, “we have one of the cleanest energy portfolios in the nation,” said Jason Thackston, a senior vice president for Avista Corp. “This is a competitive advantage for business.”

The Future Airport Growth panel brought in voices from Sea-Tac, Paine Field and Spokane International Airport to discuss what's happening and what's ahead in their areas (TVW video)

The “Infrastructure Investments for Future Airport Growth” panel featured Ryan Sheehan, director of operations and maintenance for the Spokane International Airport; Eric ffitch, state government relations manager for the Port of Seattle; and Arif Ghouse (at the podium), the airport director for Paine Field. It was moderated by AWB Government Affairs Directors Mike Ennis during the 2019 AWB Policy Summit.
“One mile of roadway will take you one mile. One mile of runway will take you around the world,” quoted Arif Ghouse, who is the airport director of Paine Field in Everett. The airport just opened to commercial passengers about six months ago, bringing more options to travelers in the area. This adds capacity and alleviates growing pains, as all airports in the state have seen significant growth in the past five years. Passenger volumes have increased 34% in Spokane and 43% at SeaTac.

A panel on Washington's tax structure asked if there is consensus about a frequent claim, that Washington's tax system is regressive -- and what the impacts would be of adding more taxes, like an income tax (TVW video).

The tax panelist agreed that adding new taxes without restructuring current ones would not resolve the issues. Fairness and transparency are important factors, especially with a topic that is often a hard conversation for lawmakers to have with their constituents.

Girls, make some noise

Debbie Sterling, founder and CEO of GoldieBlox, shows a childhood picture during the lunchtime keynote at the 2019 AWB Policy Summit.
The lunchtime keynote from GoldieBlox founder Debbie Sterling was a look at how she has worked to "disrupt the pink aisle" and help girls get into STEM education through connecting engineering with storytelling.

“It’s ok to be a princess, but I believe girls can build their castles too,” Sterling said.

From her start at Stanford University to a Kickstarter campaign and winning a free Super Bowl ad, Sterling’s personal story of overcoming gender stereotypes and then facing those same stereotypes head on was an inspiring perspective on business leadership and challenging the status quo.

Sterling called the newest generation of girls the “maker” generation, and she wants to show these girls in the least intimidating way possible that there are a pathways to STEM. The GoldieBlox brand is geared at inspiring and cultivating curiosity in young girls, and empowering them to pursue their curiosity past gender stereotypes.

Panel discussions take a deep dive into issues

To release a new childcare economic study, AWB Government Affairs Director Amy Anderson, at right, is joined by, from left: Ryan Picco, director of policy and advocacy at Child Care Aware; Nicole Sohn, executive director of Journey Discovery Center; and Dru Garson, CEO of Greater Grays Harbor, at the 2019 AWB Policy Summit.
A variety of afternoon panels discussed carbon emissions, education, workplace law and much more.

AWB Institute and other state and national partners released a new report on the economic impact from lack of affordable child care during the Child Care Economic Study panel.

They report that a lack of affordable child care is costing Washington businesses more than $2 billion per year in employee turnover or missed work, and the total cost to the state economy tops more than $6.5 billion per year. The report was based on a survey of 400 Washington households with children under the age of 6. The findings confirm what many families already know: finding high-quality childcare is difficult, and when it is available it’s expensive. For a typical single parent, the report found more than half of their income would go toward child care expenses.

“It’s a workforce issue. It’s an education issue. It’s a rural issue,” said panel moderator Amy Anderson, who is AWB's government affairs team and a member of the Washington State Child Care Collaborative Task Force. “Most important, it’s a Washington issue. We need to educate people and make them aware.”

This report shows that people are leaving jobs, not accepting jobs and foregoing education opportunities because they can’t find or afford child care, she said. Olympia Business Watch has more on the report and the partnership that produced it.

A discussion on the overtime rule featured, from left: Kim Pope, executive director for the Boys & Girls Club of the Columbia Basin; Laura McKinney, HR and government relations for Alcoa; Julia Gorton, state government affairs director for the Washington Hospitality Association; and moderator Tim O'Connell, a partner at Stoel Rives LLP, and, during the 2019 AWB Policy Summit.
The Overtime Rule panel looked at what the state Department of Labor and Industries proposal to set a new minimum overtime-exempt salary of $79,000 means for Washington employers. AWB Amplified covered this issue in a recent video.

The new L&I proposal would incrementally raise the minimum pay threshold for salaried workers to 2.5 times the minimum wage. L&I will spend several months reviewing the comments received from a series of public hearings and formulating a final rule. The agency expects to adopt the final rules by the end of the year, with a phase-in period beginning around July 1, 2020.

This new rule poses challenges to employers including loss of flexibility in employee scheduling and eliminating promotion opportunities. For non-profit organizations, it could mean forcing them to slash programs. The panel also discussed implications that may be less apparent, including increased record-keeping and liability for employers, and loss of efficiency and productivity in the workforce.

Emissions policy experts from California joined the Cap and Trade panel to discuss how the rules are achieving emissions goals in California, what challenges the state is facing, and what Washington policy makers can learn from California’s experiences.

The panelists could agree that the regulations are achieving some goals. They noted that compliance with just the current emissions rules are challenging, and as a result the manufacturing sector in California is not growing. As the cap gets stricter over time, the long-term costs are still yet to be seen.

As Washington looks to implement similar regulations, the panel reflected on what they would change if they could go through the process again. Recommendations included avoiding last-minute decision making, investing money collected from low-carbon fuel standard fines back into facilities to achieve future goals, and that other solutions should be considered, like implementing a carbon tax.

Hope for the future in politics

The 2019 Policy Summit dinner keynote was given by two White House chiefs of staff: Reince Priebus (at left), White House chief of staff under President Donald Trump (and longtime head of the Republican National Committee) and Denis McDonough, White House chief of staff under President Barack Obama. Their keynote ended the second day of the 2019 AWB Policy Summit.
The evening keynote from two White House chiefs of staff was, according to many attendees, one of the best at an AWB event in recent memory.

Reince Priebus, who served under President Donald Trump, and Denis McDonough, who served under President Barack Obama, engaged in a lighthearted point-counterpoint exchange that ranged from their first to their last days on the job at the White House.

“Hearing two former White House chiefs of staff from opposing political parties engage in a genuinely friendly exchange was one of many highlights from this week’s Policy Summit. They delivered one of the best keynotes ever,” AWB President Kris Johnson said.

Priebus and McDonough shared stories and insights gained from their experiences working for and developing relationships with the President and demonstrated how two people with politically opposing viewpoints could find commonality and humanity within political discourse.

Welcoming new and celebrating outgoing AWB board members

Incoming AWB Board Chair Fran Forgette thanks outgoing Chair Tim Schauer at the 2019 AWB Policy Summit.
Thursday saw the swearing in of more than 20 new members of the AWB board. Tri-Cities attorney Fran Forgette took over from Tim Schauer as chair of the AWB Board -- but Schauer isn't going too far. He was voted in as chair-elect of the AWB Institute Board last week as well.

For a review of Policy Summit through the eyes of those in attendance, check out this social media roundup. (