Public policy in a two-tiered economy; strategies for expanding economic vitality

A couple of local business writers recently and independently published articles highlighting economic disparities in Washington. Their articles, read with another from California, underscore how the stumbling recovery has been remarkably uneven.

Bill Virgin contrasts King and Mason Counties.

Amazing how cavalier, even dismissive, some folks in one place can be about something that, in another locale, people regard as precious and important.

Like jobs.

Up in Seattle, the mayor and cohorts are working strenuously to chase away jobs at the Port of Seattle…

(He’s writing about this.)  But, Virgin notes,

…in Mason County, they probably wish they could pick and choose which jobs they’ll take and which they’ll disdain. The March unemployment rate there was 7.8 percent, and it’s likely going to grow.

Economic development professionals in Mason County have a plan, he writes.

A countywide exercise in strategy writing resulted in a plan in which the three preferred industries for development or recruitment were tourism, food processing and value-added agriculture (including aquaculture) and advanced manufacturing.

The challenge will be translating those ideas into companies and jobs in the face of competition from other regions pursuing the same ideas and often the same sectors…

Seattle Times business columnist Jon Talton has a similar compare-and-contrast piece looking at Seattle and Tacoma. He begins by citing some recent good news about the Tacoma regional economy: a falling Pierce County unemployment rate, success in recruiting new business, and population in-migration. But,

The civilian labor force in Pierce County has shown marked weakness. It is lower now than in the early months of the recovery and doesn’t match the trend of population growth…

Whether measured by transactions, prices or new construction, the residential real-estate market continues to struggle compared with the Seattle area…

Tacoma faces low educational outcomes .. Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher were only 24.9 percent of the population in 2013. That compared with 31.9 percent for the state and 57.4 percent for Seattle. 

The tale of two economies is not unique to Washington. And as Talton notes, Seattle sets a high mark, with one of the strongest metro economies in the nation. And Tacoma is in many ways doing better than Spokane, though that comment simply underscores the state’s economic disparities.

The issues raised by Talton and Virgin are central to Opportunity Washington’s chief goal: expanding Washington’s culture of opportunity to individuals, families, employers, and communities in every corner of the state. Three guiding priorities shape our effort: Achieve (education and workforce), Connect (transportation), and Employ (tax and regulatory policies that promote investment and job creation). 

California policy leaders are making a similar effort. In the Sacramento Bee, Foon Rhea reports on how a ‘two-tier economy’ shadows California’s future

Nearly six years into the recovery from the Great Recession, it’s becoming painfully clear that California has two economies – the booming big-city coast, especially Silicon Valley, and vast swaths of inland California.

The disparity influences policy discussions in the state capital.

Kirk Clark, vice president of the Business Roundtable, says the “amazing success story” of Silicon Valley is dominating the dialogue in Sacramento, so his group is trying to raise awareness that many parts of the state are struggling.

The uneven recovery is worsening the gaps in wealth and inequality, and the prospects of children based on where they happen to be born.

…While there’s no silver bullet, [Clark] says, there are promising efforts underway, including local businesses and community colleges collaborating to find job sectors with the highest potential and to quickly train workers in that sector.
 Our Achieve, Connect, and Employ priorities are not a silver bullet, either. But they are essential elements in a comprehensive and coordinated strategy to extend economic opportunity to residents statewide.