Bellingham Herald: Larsen outlines keys to Northwest economic growth

Jan 25, 2012

By: U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen

January 25, 2012

As Congress opens its 2012 session, my top priorities for Northwest Washington continue to be promoting job creation and improving the economy. Last night the president laid out a strong vision to rebuild America. His emphasis on American ingenuity and a new era of American manufacturing is the right path forward to not only create jobs today, but secure the United States' global leadership in the future.

I want to take the opportunity to share a few thoughts about the actions we can take to create jobs in Northwest Washington this year.

First, we need to invest in transportation infrastructure. In Northwest Washington, transportation means jobs. When I talk to private construction contractors in the region about job creation, they always tell me that the No. 1 thing Congress can do to create jobs is pass a new six-year surface transportation bill. As a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I am working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to produce such a bill that maintains a robust commitment to renewing the nation's transportation needs.

Estimates show that every $1 billion in transportation infrastructure investment creates more than 30,000 jobs. These transportation improvements generate the basis for future investment and growth in our economy and our communities. Transportation growth is not just roads and infrastructure. For example, I am working to make sure that our ferry system, which is so uniquely critical to Northwest Washington, is strongly supported in a new transportation bill.

Second, we must continue to strengthen manufacturing. The 2010 census showed that manufacturing is still the leading job creator in our region. My top priority for Whatcom County is to secure a long-term power contract between the Bonneville Power Administration and the Alcoa smelter. This would protect the hundreds of jobs that are critical to the region.

We have had some great news on this front recently, as Boeing won the Air Force tanker project and the company and Machinists union reached an agreement that will secure thousands of jobs in the Puget Sound area.

I supported the Air Force tanker bid because I know Northwest Washington has the best aerospace workers in the world. We need to work to make sure this stays the case. Only by investing in education and training can we produce a strong work force to meet the needs of the aerospace industry in the decades to come. Small business owners and local aerospace suppliers have told me how important this kind of training is to supporting their needs.

Third, one great opportunity we have is in the training of our veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan. In November I was proud to vote for the VOW to Hire Heroes Act, which provides tax credits to employers hiring veterans and expands training opportunities for veterans. Veterans have a wealth of technical expertise and experience that makes them well suited for highly technical manufacturing jobs. By matching veterans with these growing opportunities in manufacturing, we can get them the jobs they deserve and increase the manufacturing work force that growth in our aerospace sector will demand.

Fourth, we need to continue expanding our efforts to boost exports from Washington state. One in three jobs in our state depends on exports and increasing exports has consistently been a bright spot in our economy. In the last decade, exports from the Second Congressional District have increased by 27 percent.

Businesses that are interested in exporting can contact my office and learn more about my District Export Promotion Program. This program links small businesses with local, state and federal resources that help companies go through the process of selling their goods to other countries.

One way I will continue to be promoting exports is through working with nations in the Asia-Pacific region. Asia-Pacific is an incredibly important trading region for the United States and for Northwest Washington in particular. As co-chair of the bipartisan U.S.-China Working Group I am focused on building relations with key Asia-Pacific leaders to seek out ways to sell our products to the region.

These four priorities - improving infrastructure, boosting manufacturing, training veterans and increasing exports - are key ways that I will continue pursuing job creation in the Second Congressional District. I am optimistic we will be successful, because we will be growing on a solid foundation.

I want to hear your thoughts about job creation, too. I will be holding a telephone town hall at 1 p.m. today. You can join by calling 877-229-8493 and entering the code 18502. Or you can always send me an email.

I look forward to working for and with you in the coming year.