Solutions for rural economic development

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The Seattle area has experienced strong economic growth since the Great Recession. However, other areas of our state continue to struggle with an uneven economic recovery. Rural and coastal communities, in particular, are suffering the most from unemployment and limited growth opportunities.

This map of counties from the state’s Employment Security Department (ESD) illustrates our unemployment problem. In December 2016, 14 counties had an unemployment rate of 8.1 percent or more, including four coastal counties. This labor market county profile takes a closer look at the outlook, unemployment numbers, industry, population, and wages and income for each county.

Several factors have contributed to our economic woes outside of the Seattle area, including federal, state and judicial actions and overreach. Decisions made at the federal level over the years have pushed out or limited industries in our state. Restrictions from the state’s Growth Management Act (GMA) have created economic challenges for many counties over the last 25 years. The state Supreme Court’s Hirst decision – which has far-reaching effects on rural communities, land developers and land owners – is the most recent example of harmful judicial overreach.

All of these factors have had an adverse, cumulative effect and resulted in fewer economic opportunities and more unemployment in our state. We represent many of these impacted communities.

One of our legislative priorities is to empower families and strengthen communities. Below are some of the bills we are supporting that would help rural economic development.

  • House Bill 1017 would change the one-size-fits-all building restrictions created by the GMA and allow school districts to build new schools where students live.
  • House Bill 1051 would create public infrastructure grants for projects in rural counties.
  • House Bill 1101 would modify the population and population growth criteria used to determine the counties and cities that are required to plan fully under the GMA.
  • House Bill 1123 would create the Washington Tourism Marketing Authority and use existing revenue to implement a statewide tourism-marketing plan.
  • House Bill 1403 would encourage job creation and retention in rural economies through the transparent and accountable provision of targeted tax relief for silicon smelters.
  • House Bill 1422 would create the Washington Rural Jobs Act and a program to develop rural growth funds.
  • House Bill 1504 would authorize counties and cities planning under the GMA to adopt development regulations to permit resource lands adjacent to short line railroads to be developed for freight rail dependent purposes, subject to certain conditions.
  • House Bill 1525 would create the Economic Revitalization Act and provide substance to economic development elements of the GMA.
  • House Bill 2133 would encourage the economic vitality of rural food and forest product businesses.
  • Several pieces of legislation to address the problems created by the Hirst decision (House Bills 1348, 1349, 1459, 1382, 1748 and 1503).