Locke's jobs plan at core of recovery effort for county

Friday, March 14, 2003
By JONATHAN NELSON, Columbian staff writer

Olympia, WA - Gov. Gary Locke's Thursday meeting with a host of city, county and business leaders from Clark County didn't

Locke said he steered away from across-the-board tax increases for fear of further hurting families and putting businesses at a disadvantage.

unearth an undiscovered solution to Southwest Washington's economic woes but revisited a familiar theme: create employment and stop the flow of jobs across the river into Oregon.

Scott Bailey, an economist with the Washington Department of Employment Security, said despite Clark County's rise in population throughout the 1990s the region still relies on the Portland area for 32 percent of its jobs.

Bailey said Clark County's economic health is tied to Portland and Oregon, where unemployment remains higher, school days are being cut and the state's budget faces even bigger deficits than Washington's.

"I hope you learn from our mistakes," said Bailey, who lives in Portland.

Locke believes Washington's answer lies in his recovery plan, which lists seven strategies to stimulate the economy. The plan, called Jobs Now, was the topic of discussion between Locke and 32 Clark County leaders during a meeting at the Port of Vancouver. The gathering concluded the governor's daylong visit to Southwest Washington.

Locke says his plan would:

. Stimulate the economy by spending $2.5 billion on construction projects that would pay for 13,400 jobs.

. Capitalize on the state's international trade advantage.

. Promote and improve the business climate.

. Tout the state's technology strengths.

. Give communities tools to build businesses.

. Improve higher education to fit skilled workers into the marketplace.

. Push Congress and President Bush for an economic stimulus package.

Few specific concerns were raised by those in the audience.

But County Commissioner Craig Pridemore said a clearer understanding of how to deal with wetlands in development is needed for citizens and government projects. He said transportation remains a key issue, with money needed for the continued expansion of roads.

Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard's plea was simple: The region needs help in creating and retaining jobs.

"You know how dismal it is here," he said.

Clark County's unemployment rate in January was 6.8 percent, down from 7.6 in December. The statewide figures, however, remained lower than Clark County's: 6.6 percent in January and 7 percent in December. The national unemployment rate was 5.7 percent in January and 6 percent in December.

Economists predict a slow recovery will begin this year, but the Pacific Northwest is usually the last to experience an uptick. The threat of war with Iraq also adds an element of uncertainty to any forecasts.

Locke said his proposed budget includes severe cuts, but he said he steered away from across-the-board tax increases for fear of further hurting families and putting businesses at a disadvantage.

"Especially here across the border (from Oregon)," Locke said.


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