Wa State’s Largest Manufacturing Region Overlooked in Initial Transportation Proposals

Snohomish County is home to Wash. State’s largest number of aerospace manufacturing jobs. Image – Boeing Everett facilities, Maurice King, Wikimedia Commons

Snohomish County business and transportation stakeholders are feeling overlooked by some of the state transportation investment proposals and project lists. The County has the state’s third largest population and the highest concentration of manufacturing jobs (though 2nd in number of jobs to King County).

Yet “all of the initial transportation package proposals lacked any meaningful investment” in Snohomish County, according to Patrick Pierce of the Economic Alliance of Snohomish County.

Pierce writes:

“One would assume that when conversations about transportation, transit, education, and other investments are occurring in Olympia and elsewhere, this corridor [in Snohomish County] would be near the top of the list of priorities. Unfortunately, this is not the case with investments in the corridor, both actual and proposed, lag far behind other regions of the state. For example, all of the initial transportation package proposals lacked any meaningful investment within this corridor. More than being bad for Snohomish County, this is bad business for the state because without investing in one of your primary manufacturing corridors that provides tens of thousands of well-paying, high-skill jobs, the state is failing to invest in its future.”

Pierce notes also that this isn’t just about selling manufactured products, it’s also about “funding for schools, parks, social services, and arts that rely on the revenue and charitable giving these [product] sales generate in taxes and wages.”

One perceived slight occurred when a coalition of regional business and transportation stakeholders, convened by Seattle interests, proposed a transportation investment package with few Snohomish County projects. A second perceived slight occurred when WSDOT produced a draft 10-year project list, and only a few of Snohomish County’s top project priorities were included.

Snohomish County. Image – Wikimedia.org

Partly in reaction to those (and past) challenges, County business and transportation stakeholders have taken two actions.

First, they have come together and agreed on project priorities. This alignment makes it easier for stakeholders and legislators to advocate for projects. It’s also unusual – most counties are unable to prioritize their projects due to conflicting interests.

Second, stakeholders are highlighting the County’s role in the state’s economy by creating the North Puget Sound Manufacturing Corridor. Stretching from the Bothell to Arlington, the corridor is home to highest concentration of manufacturing jobs in the state. Corridor businesses employ 63,000+ high-tech manufacturing jobs (second highest in the state), and 46,000+ aerospace jobs (highest in the state).

The Corridor also encompasses two of the state’s Innovation Partnership Zones (IPZ): the Aerospace Convergence Zone and the Bothell Biomedical Manufacturing. The IPZ program (learn more) was created in 2007 “to stimulate the growth of industry clusters and build regional economies” and create new companies, products and jobs. The zones aim to create commercially viable technologies through collaborations between research entities, the private sector and work force training.

Transportation is critical to the economic health and development of those businesses. Getting employees to work, receiving and delivering parts and goods all depend on a transportation network that is well-maintained and, in certain instances, expanded. And it’s not just roads – transit and ferry services are a key piece of the puzzle.

 In fact the EASC’s legislative priority for transportation includes this language: “Attractive and efficient transportation systems connecting major employment centers such as light rail and BRT, improve the marketability of our region to those businesses and employees accustomed to transit-centric environments. Such investments also stimulate private sector investments helping communities thrive.”

So what do Snohomish County leaders want to see in a transportation investment package?

First, they have prioritized list of state-jurisdiction projects that are focused on jobs and economic vitality. It includes six projects to assist the aerospace manufacturing businesses ($393 million), four freight-mobility/grade separation projects ($296 million) and six projects focused on improving connectivity to job centers ($206 million).  It adds up to $895 million – a pretty big ask of a statewide investment package that some think will not exceed $10 billion total. But the $895 also represents a paring down from longer list of needed transportation improvements.

Second, county leaders recognize the county’s economic vitality “requires more than just highways.” Accordingly, the EASC and its transportation partners officially support:

Reinvestment in our transit agencies through increased state support and expanded local revenue options to address the specific needs of our businesses and residents;

Maintenance, preservation, and operation funding for existing highways, bridges, and ferries;

Sufcient funding existing programs, such as Public Works Trust Fund, Transportation Improvement Board (TIB), and County Road Administration Board (CRAB), to our local governments can make critical infrastructure improvements; and,

Additional revenue and financing tools to support local economic development infrastructure projects, such as the Mountlake Terrace Main Street Revitalization project, that support job growth, improve mobility, and promote local economic vitality.

County leaders remain hopeful.  Pierce notes that

“we are gaining some real momentum around this issue as a result of our meetings [with legislators] and those we participated in with our partners. Working together and speaking with one voice with a common agenda is beginning to bear fruit for our community. This is only day 19 of 105 for the legislature, so there is plenty of time on the clock to ensure the legislature thinks rationally about the investments it makes in our state.”