There’s nothing like a good summer road trip – open road, sun on your face, window rolled down, on the way to see new places and meet new people. WCIT went on our own summer road trip last week, touring Eastern Washington to meet with cherry and apple growers, manufacturers, wineries, forestry companies and shippers. As part of WCIT’s mission to advocate for small, medium and large employers across Washington state, several times a year we undertake outreach and fact-finding trips so that we can learn from WA businesses what challenges they are facing in the global marketplace.
Over the course of the week, we met with a dozen companies from Yakima, Walla Walla, Kennewick and Spokane. I was continually impressed with the ingenuity and leadership of Washington companies, and I came away with several lessons I’d love to share with you (and feeling very proud of my home state I might add!). Looking over this list, I realized that Eric wrote a blog post on this very same topic when he just started working at WCIT two years ago.
1. Eastern Washington is home to advanced manufacturing, not just agriculture.
When most of us from the western half of Washington think of the eastern part of the state, images of apples and wheat automatically dance in our minds. While it is true that the land east of the Cascades is one of the most productive growing regions in the world, it is also the home of many advanced manufacturing companies that are global leaders in their field. For example, Nelson Irrigation in Walla Walla designs and manufactures some of the most innovative and efficient irrigation products in the world and exports them to 98 countries. Key Technology, another manufacturing company in Walla Walla, designs and builds food processing equipment used by global companies such as PepsiCo and McDonalds. Some of their inventions have revolutionized the way food is sorted and processed.
2. Efficient freight mobility is critical to the eastern half of the state.
While affordable and efficient freight mobility is important for all businesses in our state, it is particularly important for companies in Eastern WA. Transporting their goods to the rest of the nation and world adds considerable cost to their business. When meeting with the shipping company Inland Empire Distribution Systems (IEDS) last week, we learned high shipping costs is a major reason some companies from the region have relocated elsewhere. Yet, crucial transportation infrastructure projects continue to go unfunded. As a result, a group of public and private sector representatives from 19 counties in Eastern WA and Northern Idaho have partnered to create the Inland Pacific Hub to identify and advocate for critical freight mobility infrastructure investments and strategies. WCIT plans to partner with the International Trade Alliance of Spokane, Greater Spokane Incorporated and the Inland Pacific Hub to organize a freight mobility policy event in Spokane soon – so stay tuned for more updates!
3. Across diverse industries, Washington companies are facing the same international trade challenges.
When we think about trade policy issues, I think many of us assume they are specific to certain industries or only relevant for big companies. In fact, the majority of businesses, both big and small, are facing the exact same trade policy challenges. We heard the same problems mentioned over and over again last week by companies working in very different industries. Many of them mentioned IP infringement and market access issues in China, high tariffs and burdensome customs requirements in Brazil, regulatory barriers in Europe, long-term sustainability of the Ex-Im Bank, or the cost of freight mobility as being major concerns. Hearing about these issues from diverse companies in our state confirmed for us how important it is that WCIT be a voice on these issues for employers of all sizes and from all industries in Washington state.
So it looks like my major takeaways from our Eastern Washington trip aren’t too different from Eric’s two years ago, but it never hurts to revisit these points!