Gregoire's visit: Help for small business pledged

Thursday, February 3, 2005
By JONATHAN NELSON, Columbian staff writer

Washington State - Newly elected Gov. Christine Gregoire made her inaugural visit to Southwest Washington on Wednesday, embarking on a tour of the area that focused on small businesses and economic development.

Gregoire stopped at nLight, a Vancouver manufacturer of high-powered semiconductor lasers; the advertising agency Rocketshop; the Vancouver Farmers Market; the Vancouvercenter project; and the Port of Vancouver.

The destinations gave Gregoire a glimpse into the hardships faced by small businesses and of an emerging workforce of knowledge-based businesses some say could be a driving force in the area's economy and continued revitalization of downtown.

"I think much of the economic opportunity that lies here and around the state is small business," she said. "I know all too often we focus on big business. Well, at one point big business was small business."

Gregoire intends to propose changes today to the state's business and occupational tax structure to give small businesses a break. She said small business owners have complained of spending the bulk of their available funds to start a company and then are forced to immediately pay a business tax despite not having the chance to turn a profit.

Gregoire would like to see a higher threshold and less paperwork.

She intends to provide specifics of the proposal today.

The governor also announced a joint partnership with Oregon to create an economic development plan for the Portland-Vancouver region.

Gregoire has spoken several times about such issues as the Northwest Power Planning Council, the Columbia River Gorge Commission and the region's ports.

"Washington and Oregon can, and must, be partners on many issues, particularly on infrastructure such as the bridges between the two states," Gregoire said in a press release.

Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard applauded the effort.

"We are a region and we have to think and act as a region," Pollard said. "What is good for Portland may be good for Vancouver and Southwest Washington. What's good for Vancouver will certainly be good for them."

Gregoire's visit came less than a month after her Jan. 12 inauguration and a bitterly contested race against Republican Dino Rossi, a real estate agent and former state senator. Gregoire, the state's former attorney general, beat Rossi by 129 votes after a manual recount overturned Rossi's leads after the initial count and a machine recount.

The disputed race is in the hands of the courts after Republican leaders challenged Gregoire's victory.

Gregoire mentioned during Wednesday's visit the impact small businesses have had in the revitalization of downtown Vancouver.

She said healthy downtowns and businesses go hand in hand.

City, community and economic leaders say that by tapping into and encouraging creative workers to move to Vancouver, their efforts can spur the local economy and help downtown's rebirth.

This workforce brings together artists, writers, engineers, architects and other professions that rely on intellectual property.

Jonathan Nelson covers business for The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-759-8013 or via e-mail at jonathan.nelson@columbian. com.



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