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If this is Governor's plan to grow the economy, we need a new one

In his recent state of the state address, Gov. Jay Inslee unveiled his “Working Washington Agenda,” a package of “legislative proposals to create and sustain a thriving economic climate.” In a press conference, the Governor claimed his plan will “create a positive climate for job growth” and “give Washingtonians the tools to get back to work.”

The governor’s five-prong plan centers around expanding and enhancing STEM education, providing targeted tax relief for research-based, high-tech industries, investing in the state’s aerospace industry with aerospace education and training programs and targeted tax breaks, investing in clean energy, and embracing the health care reforms and Medicaid expansion to create jobs.

I guess Inslee’s plan might be good news if you are in the high-tech, research, clean energy, aerospace or health care industries.

Unfortunately, this highly targeted plan won’t improve our state’s lackluster business climate. He offers no relief to the thousands of small business owners who are trying to grow their business and create jobs.

The governor’s plan doesn’t include even a mention of the issues employers have identified as real obstacles to running a successful business. Issues such as costly workers’ compensation taxes, the burdensome and unfair Business & Occupation tax, complex government regulations, high minimum wage and sky-rocketing health insurance costs are the roadblocks the majority of business owners say must be reformed.

However, he did mention his support of a single-business portal through which businesses could interact with state agencies. The business community has asked for a single-business portal for years, and it is a longstanding WPC recommendation.

Beyond that, it appears most small businesses outside of these industries have no part in the new governor’s plan. When asked by an astute reporter about the lack of relief for businesses in the non-targeted industries (the reporter used the example of a mom-and-pop grocery store owner), the governor replied that the state must “channel our scarce resources into investments that have the greatest potential for phenomenal growth.”

Unfortunately for the economy of our state, focusing his attention like a laser beam on a handful of industries will not create the jobs that will help our state recover. Only government reforms will accomplish that. Small businesses are the engines of our state’s economy—96 percent of the companies in Washington state are small businesses, and they employ a third of the state’s private sector workforce.

Contrary to the governor’s belief that only a handful of potentially high-growth industries will turn our economy around, history has taught us it is small businesses that will lead us out of recession. Traditionally, jobs created by entrepreneurs are a major catalyst for revitalization during times of economic stress. But small businesses can’t blaze a path to economic prosperity with the roadblocks our state imposes on them. Sadly, it sounds like our new governor has little appreciation for the role small businesses play in our economy or for the obstacles they face.

Erin Shannon is director of the Center for Small Business at the Washington Policy Center.

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