AWB’s annual data guide highlights Washington’s successes, opportunities

By Kris Johnson

Washington’s economy is the envy of many states across the country. Job growth in our urban areas is booming and cranes pepper the Seattle and Bellevue skylines.

Kris Johnson

Kris Johnson, Association of Washington Business

All that points to a robust statewide economy today and into the future. Or, does it?

Each year, the Association of Washington Business, or AWB, digs deeper into the state’s economy and competitiveness, going beyond the headlines and accolades from outside groups, to determine where Washington can improve and harness opportunities for growth.

AWB’s 2018 Competitiveness Redbook, released last month, is a data-driven guide to Washington state’s economic health that uses comparisons – 59 tables in all – with other states to benchmark performance in key indicators.

One important indicator is job growth. The latest numbers show job growth remains a strength, with nearly 80,000 new jobs added over the past year. Looking deeper, however, that’s actually 21,000 fewer jobs than the previous year, dropping our state down one spot to sixth in the nation.

Another positive sign of economic strength is the state’s gross domestic product (GDP). Washington jumped up six places over the previous year and now ranks No. 1 in the annual percentage growth in state GDP. However, the data also shows room for improvement, noting Washington remains 14th overall nationally for total GDP in current dollars.

There are plenty of positive economic indicators – a robust economy, job creation along the Interstate 5 corridor and growing tax collections to fund K-12 education and other critical services.

Buffering that is data that show room for improvement in the state’s overall competitiveness, particularly regarding the cost of doing business.

Washington is a relatively high-cost state for employers. Businesses pay 57.6 percent of all state and local taxes. In addition, our state continues to be a leader in the cost for unemployment insurance taxes, ranking No. 10 in the nation. We also retained the top spot in workers’ compensation benefit costs at $788.62 per covered employee, nearly double the national average.

Our state also continues to have one of the highest minimum wages in the country, placing No. 2 behind Massachusetts.

Educational attainment is also an area where Washington can improve. Washington fell in the rankings in high school graduation, to 16th, and had no change in the number of bachelor’s and advanced degrees awarded. In a state with a growing need for a skilled workforce that has at least some level of post-secondary education, this is one area where we can and should improve.

We can and should take pride in the many national rankings. For example: CNBC’s annual ranking places Washington state at the top of states to do business. The lack of a state income tax plays into that ranking and the many others that are announced each year by Forbes and others.

Washington boasts some of the best research universities, it’s a hub of high-tech manufacturing and it is one of the cleanest and greenest places to live, work and raise a family.

However, to ensure that Washington retains all of its positive attributes, we must constantly work on and improve areas the data how hold us back from our full economic potential.

Kris Johnson is the president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s chamber of commerce and designated manufacturing association.

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