Infinia’s departure should serve as a wakeup call to state and region – by Rep. Larry Haler

Special to the Tri-City Herald, published on July 8, 2011.

It is often said that the Tri-Cities region has more doctorate degrees per capita than any other region in the United States. This has caused us to be a world leader in many phases of product and scientific research and development.

But while the Tri-Cities may have cornered the market on research and development, what about the manufacturing? We can’t survive on research and development alone. Manufacturing must once again be part of our state and local economies.

Looking back, our state has had a significant manufacturing presence. With abundant and affordable hydro power, the aluminum smelting and manufacturing industry employed workers across the Northwest. Boeing built planes by the thousands here with hundreds of subcontractors reaping the benefits of local production lines. Natural resources like timber helped make Washington a world leader in the manufacturing of wood-based products and byproducts.

But it seems somewhere in the last few decades, we lost our way.

Having a good job became secondary to having a good program. Instead of creating regulations that protected the environment, the worker AND the business, we’ve implemented rules that stifle job-creation, bring uncertainty to existing employers and encourage the outsourcing of labor-related jobs at every opportunity.

Small businesses are no longer looked upon as the backbone of our economy but as a “cash cow” to be tapped for every social program under the sun. Instead of social services being the resource of last resort – as I believe they should be – they are quickly becoming the quick and easy fix for a government that chooses to address the squeaky wheel instead of the root problem.

Folks, we can do better. We MUST do better.

We are competing at a national and international level for employers. Other states, like Idaho and Utah, are actively and aggressively courting our jobs. They are rolling out the red carpet for businesses while the bureaucracy in Washington treats employers like carpetbaggers.

During this last session, many of my colleagues and I embraced a package of bills to help get Washington working again. We saw some important and necessary reforms to our state’s unemployment insurance programs as well as our workers’ compensation system. We also enacted a seven-day grace period for small businesses to correct violations before fines are imposed.

But there were several misses as well.

A proposal to double the small business B&O tax credit failed. Another bill to delay costly new state energy code requirements also failed. Legislation addressing unfunded mandates, the permitting process for employers, the Growth Management Act for counties and cities with high unemployment, and new rulemaking by state agencies all died in committee. These were all ideas and reforms specifically designed to help attract and retain jobs here in Washington.

However, we can’t give up the fight. For the most part, the Tri-Cities region has escaped the worst of the state and national economic recessions. But that is slowly changing. With about 3,000 Hanford workers set to be released by September of this year, and with more companies like Infinia seeking greener pastures, we must get serious about retaining every single job we have while doing our part to attract more.

That’s why I am going to embark on a series of “main street walks” before the 2012 legislative session. If a small business owner has an idea that he or she thinks will help them hire one more worker, I want to know about it. If a retail store wants to expand its business but finds a specific obstacle is hindering it from doing so, I want to know about it.

Infinia’s own CEO said the company needed to move beyond the R&D stage and into productive and consolidated manufacturing. There’s no reason those jobs can’t be here in our state. Elected leaders at all levels need to look in the mirror and ask themselves if they have the political will to help make Washington a haven for job creation. And if they don’t, they need to get out of the way and make room for those who can.

(Rep. Larry Haler, R-Richland, is serving his fourth term in the state House of Representatives. He is a former city councilman and mayor of Richland and has over 36 years of experience in the nuclear industry.)

State Representative Larry Haler, 8th Legislative District
122H Legislative Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7986 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000