Whatcom Event Focuses on Boosting Working Families

More high-wage jobs needed to help sustain the middle class

BELLINGHAM— Lawmakers, labor and business leaders joined forces in Bellingham Monday to emphasize Whatcom County’s need for high-wage jobs to sustain working families.

“Rebuilding the Middle Class: Working Families and Wages in Northwest Washington and the State” included presentations and remarks by elected officials, economists, trade and agricultural leaders who underscored the importance of expanding Washington state’s trade infrastructure to develop long-term, family-wage jobs in Whatcom County. The event was sponsored by the Northwest Jobs Alliance, the Whatcom Business Alliance and Keep Washington Competitive, a coalition of business, labor, agriculture and trade groups working to highlight regulatory and trade issues essential to the state’s long-term future. U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett, was among the day’s speakers advocating for working families.

“My top goal in Congress is to invest in the foundation of long-term economic growth that creates jobs and opportunity in the Pacific Northwest,” said Larsen. “I am working to achieve this goal by investing in our transportation infrastructure to keep our economy moving, developing Northwest Washington as a center for clean energy, and helping our businesses sell their goods overseas and create jobs here at home.”

Lee Newgent, executive secretary with the Washington State Building & Construction Trades, said more must be done to create careers – not short-term, seasonal employment – for the middle class in Whatcom County and around the state.

“If this region is serious about lifting people up and growing family-wage jobs, investing in rail and infrastructure improvements is a sure-fire way to do it,” said Newgent.

Top agricultural exporters — including Washington’s farmers, growers, viticulturists, ranchers and harvesters —are also monitoring the debate over area export terminals with extreme concern.

“Next to manufacturing, agriculture is the largest, most trade-dependent segment of Washington’s economy. Failure to invest in our state’s export facilities, rail and other infrastructure will jeopardize one of our state’s most prosperous and popular industries,” said John Stuhlmiller, president and CEO of the Washington Farm Bureau.

Mark Lowry, president of the Northwest Washington Central Labor Council, agreed with fellow panelists that opportunities for economic development and family wage jobs exist for Whatcom County and that wage growth for the middle class is possible.

“We are going to make some legacy decisions here in the next few years,” said Lowry. “We can reverse these [economic] trends. We have the tools to do it, if we have the political will to make these investments.”

Tony Larson, president of the Whatcom Business Alliance, closed out the day’s event by reminding attendees about the importance of developing an economy that works for every corner of Washington state.

“Our state’s economic recovery remains uneven, particularly in Whatcom County where we lag in the development of family-wage jobs. Investing in our infrastructure presents an obvious opportunity – one that will benefit residents of Whatcom County and the entire state by enhancing our trade and export competitiveness,” he said. “These are important business development issues for northwest Washington. Everyone benefits from investments in infrastructure, especially the working families of Whatcom County.”

Follow KWC on Twitter: @KWC_Trade

Videos of U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, Lee Newgent and Tony Larson available here.