Remember back in grade school when, as soon as you came back in September, your teacher would assign you to write a paper about “what I learned on my summer vacation?” Well, I just got back from a three day trip to Eastern Washington to talk international trade, and I feel compelled to submit a similarly themed assignment (especially since the start of the school year is right around the corner!).
And, like how I approached most of my school assignments, I’m going to do the least possible work. So, instead of a blow-by-blow account (which I did via Twitter along the way at #WCITinEasternWA), I’ll just give you my top three lessons about Eastern WA and international trade:
1) It’s Not Just About Ag: I think a lot of folks – particularly in the Puget Sound – assume that, once you cross the Cascades, the entire economy is just agriculture. But in many ways, the economy of Eastern WA is as diverse as the economy of Western WA. Some of the top exporters that I learned about on my travels were huge clean tech companies like Itron, wineries like Columbia Crest, large manufacturers like Lampson and even global health nonprofits like SIGN. Although, to be fair, there’s a ton of agricultural production and a lot of it is being exported: 80-90% of Washington wheat, 30% of apples, cherries and pears, etc.
2) It’s Not Just About Asia: Because of the rising significance of China plus our state’s west coast location, we often immediately think of Asia when we think of export. And yes, there’s a lot of exporting from Eastern Washington to Japan, China, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam and elsewhere. And don’t forget about India. But – in a revelation that shouldn’t be shocking at all – a lot of Washington’s fruit crop goes to Mexico and Canada. And the number four market for US white white (which is made mostly here in the Pacific NW) is Yemen. In fact, I was surprised by how many times the Middle East (including Egypt and Libya) was brought up as an important region. Plus, South America is considered a huge growth market, and of course SIGN is an example of an organization doing a lot of work in Africa.
3) Eastern WA Gets the Link to Western WA: Contrary to the idea of the Cascade Curtain, Eastern WA exporters understand that a huge part of their success is dependent on the competitiveness of the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma, the reliability of/need for investment in statewide infrastructure, and statewide efforts to promote the Washington brand overseas. I can’t tell you how many times the Harbor Maintenance Tax came up, for example. And, of course, everyone understood the potential impact of the pending Free Trade Agreements with Korea, Colombia and Panama.
Overall, a great trip, and looking forward to going back soon to meet with more companies and learn more about how WCIT can help address the trade policy barriers that they face.