I'd have missed this if Rich Roesler's Spokesman-Review blog hadn't linked to it. Rick Bender, president of the Labor Council, has a unique take on the Forbes report ranking Washington the fifth best state for business. (We've posted on it before here and I commented here.)
Bender thinks our state's successful because we're "worker friendly."
A few short years ago, it was fashionable among business lobbyists to declare -- as former Boeing executive Alan Mulally infamously said -- that "we suck." They said our state's highest-in-the-nation minimum wage, high unemployment benefits, high taxes and high workers' compensation costs were all, well, too high. ...
Thankfully, our leaders recognized that the struggling economy had little to do with state policies. The 9-11 attacks decimated the airplane market and Boeing shed tens of thousands of jobs. The dot-com bust hit our state disproportionately hard. The phony Enron energy crisis delivered a death blow to our aluminum industry.
Although legislators briefly slashed unemployment benefits in a panic over whether Boeing would build its new Dreamliner here, state officials generally chose to ride out the recession without unnecessarily harming working families. (With the support of Boeing, among others, most of those unemployment benefit cuts were quickly restored.)
He's got a lot of the history right. In the months prior to the 9-11 attacks, business groups had raised legitimate concerns about the high cost of operating in Washington. That's when AWB, the Washington Roundtable, and the Washington Research Council formed the Washington Alliance for a Competitive Economy (WashACE). And, after Boeing announced its headquarters move to Chicago, the dot-com bubble burst, and the nation was sliding into recession, with Washington leading the way, Gov. Gary Locke formed the Washington Competitiveness Council to understand how to improve the state business climate. Locke cited the work of WashACE at the time.
But the Labor Council overlooks a few things. Boeing and the business community fought hard for the UI reforms, which were essential to winning the Dreamliner competition and important to many other businesses. Regulatory reforms coming out of the Competitiveness Council's work has improved the business climate, as Forbes reported. And, of course, there was that big cost-reducing incentive package
that sealed the Dreamliner deal.
While I've expressed concerns about business costs (Forbes ranked us 33rd best), good news is good news. As long as we don't forget the work that goes into maintaining a competitive economy, Washington can continue to be a good place for employers and workers. For certain, it won't be a good place for workers if their jobs go out of state. There's a lot of work left to be done.