Sector-leading opportunities in aerospace, information and communication technology, health sciences, clean technology, agriculture and food production, forest products, and military and defense industries attract investors and the best minds from across the country to work and grow more jobs in Washington. Our $80 billion international export trade ranked 3rd in the nation in 2016 behind California and Texas, and our $47 billion import trade ranked 13th in the nation.
Trade isn’t the only way transportation supports our economy. Tens of thousands of Washington workers build our transportation system, from airplanes, ships, bicycles, and the technology going into modern cars to the infrastructure on which they depend. These are family-wage jobs that support our communities.
Unfortunately, economic opportunity is not distributed evenly across the state. 21 of Washington’s 39 counties are economically distressed, meaning that their unemployment rates have been at least 20 percent higher than the statewide average for the last three years. These counties account for 17 percent of our state’s total population, counties where state goals for economic vitality and the opportunities it provides remain elusive for too many people. As traditional industries decline, efforts to recruit new employers and industries are hampered by gaps in broadband infrastructure, shortage of skilled labor force and housing, and gaps in infrastructure.
Research conducted by the Washington Roundtable highlights the magnitude of economic growth disparities. From 2011- 2015, 71 percent of new jobs in Washington were in the North I-5 Corridor, described in the Washington Roundtable Analysis as the I-5 Corridor from Thurston through Whatcom counties. The North I-5 corridor is home to 58 percent of the state’s working age population (16-64 years old). In contrast, during that same time 7 percent of the new jobs added in the state were in the Olympic region, comprised of the five counties that make up the Olympic Peninsula, which is home to 12 percent of the state’s working age population. While 2016 unemployment in the North I-5 Corridor was at 4 7 percent —below the national average of 4 9 percent —unemployment in every other region in the state was substantially higher than the national average. Even within a single metropolitan area we see increasing disparity as opportunities cluster in some areas while others are left behind.
Housing affordability and supply is a challenge nearly everywhere in the state. It is a major factor behind congestion in the Puget Sound and Clark County regions, where workers have to travel ever further to find affordable housing. Across the state, rents are increasing much faster than wages, and in 2017 the median sales price for a home in Washington set a new record at $337,70010. Like other states in the country, Washington is grappling with how to get a better balance between economic competitiveness, quality of life, and housing affordability. Without that balance people have to commute longer distances and travel further to meet their daily needs.
The past is no prediction of the future. At every level of government, throughout the private sector, and even for households and individuals, the transportation decisions we face in the future are going to be different from those we faced in the past. Many drivers of change are outside the control of any government agency or community and are happening at an unprecedented pace. We are challenged to ask different questions and think differently about possibilities and choices than we have in the past. For example:
For the foreseeable future we need to continuously evaluate the adequacy of our tools and assumptions, continue to advocate for maintenance and preservation of existing facilities, and work to become more nimble in our decision-making processes to keep up with the pace of evolution.