Fueling sustainable job growth, starting with common ground
Everybody hurts in an economic downturn, but leaders from business, labor and environmental communities have found efforts where they agree, while continuing to disagree on other issues. Here's what they came up with in a three-day meeting hosted by the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce.
Special to The Times
JOBS, jobs, jobs — finally a four-letter word everyone likes! All of us, no matter what our background, share the goal of getting people back to work and building lasting prosperity for our region. Everyone can agree this is vital to providing opportunities for the next generation and maintaining the quality of life we enjoy.
Today we face economic and fiscal challenges unique in our lifetimes. Over the past two years, the United States has lost 7 million jobs. Here in Washington state, unemployment jumped to its highest rate since 1984. The economy seems to be headed for a rebound, but there is no easy or quick fix.
New definitions are needed for what sustainable prosperity looks like. Yes, we need to improve the bottom line and increase our competitiveness in a global economy, but we also need to focus on protecting our environment and ensuring that growth benefits all parts of our society.
The Regional Leadership Conference, hosted by the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, has a 23-year history of solving issues and building community. The goal of this year's conference was to create a plan that will allow our region to emerge from this downturn even stronger than when we entered it, and create a new model for sustainable long-term success.
To do this, divergent interests from different circles of our community — environmental, labor, multicultural, business, government and education groups — were brought together. We were looking for the spot where these circles overlap while acknowledging there are plenty of places where they do not.
The discussions, as you might imagine, were lively. This all-inclusive approach has never been attempted before and our usual differences of opinion, combined with a very divisive election season, made for some rocky moments. But the search for common ground — and an understanding that not all ground needed to be common — kept the group together.
At the end of the three-day effort, the group had agreed to "A Common Ground Manifesto for Sustainable Job Growth" with specific recommendations for action:
• Nurturing our region's strengths — One of the best ways to grow sustainable jobs is to appreciate and support the ones we've already got. Whether it's aerospace, trade, maritime and industrial, coffee or high-tech, many other regions want what we have, and the competition is getting fierce.
We need to invest in multimodal transportation, even in a downturn, because it provides an adrenaline shot of good-paying construction jobs in the near term and develops the mobility and trade corridors that makes our economy work over the long term. Meanwhile, we need to accelerate the cleanup of areas that are critical to our economy and environment, such as the Duwamish Waterway.
• Cultivating new opportunities — Our region is already a hub for some of the most innovative research and award-winning achievements in emerging sectors like clean energy, global health and social media, and we stand to gain many benefits from being an even bigger leader in these sustainable industries. We need to grow jobs in these sectors through coordinated promotion, accelerated investment and results-driven policy.
It's important that we also support increased access to capital and economic opportunities for small and multicultural businesses.
• Investing in education and job training — We live in a state where less than one in five ninth-graders finish high school and graduate from college on time. Consequently, we face a shortage of skilled workers that is one of the greatest impediments to our long-term economic recovery and competitiveness.
We need to support our state education system — from early learning to postgraduate levels — and work to ensure our colleges produce graduates with skills that match employment opportunities. We also need to support job-training programs, community colleges and apprenticeship programs.
According to the Brookings Institution, the next economy will be led by metropolitan regions that focus on exports fueled by innovation and low-carbon solutions. There will be geographic winners and losers. We are determined to make sure that our region is a winner that flourishes.
We live in a time of increasing polarization and it's easy to find areas of disagreement. Nevertheless, we remain optimistic. We have tremendous work to do, but we also have a great foundation upon which to build — a quality of life that is the envy of the world, a long history of innovation and invention, and an exceptionally talented workforce.
And now we have a team that is committed to working together.
Maud Daudon is chair of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce; Dave Freiboth is executive director of the King County Labor Council; and Ross Macfarlane is senior adviser at Climate Solutions.