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Business roundtable solicits input
ARLINGTON — Business interests from throughout the region were represented at a roundtable meeting at the Arlington Municipal Airport on Thursday, May 17, as Economic Alliance Snohomish County proposed coordinating their efforts to help them draw state and federal dollars more effectively.
Troy McClellan, president and CEO of Economic Alliance Snohomish County, told an audience that included Arlington Mayor Barbara Tolbert, Monroe Mayor Robert Zimmerman and Heather Logan — who was representing both the Cascade Valley Hospital and Clinics and the Arlington-Smokey Point Chamber of Commerce — that too many conflicting and overlapping goals between regional organizations have made state and federal Legislators leery of funding Snohomish County projects.
"I've been told by Olympia that we don't represent ourselves well," McClellan said. "Compared to Spokane or Vancouver, we're not easy to say yes to. If you look at Spokane now, it's gotten everything that it wanted 15 years ago, and that's because there wasn't any infighting between its municipalities."
McClellan cited study results that Larry Dunn of Westar Properties in Arlington had looked up, which graded the state of Washington "D-plus" in business networking.
"We are not looking to compete with your local chambers of commerce," McClellan said. "Our goal is to be a multiplier for your messages."
While McClellan identified aerospace and advanced manufacturing as Snohomish County's primary businesses, he emphasized the importance of diversifying that business field while not walking away from those base interests. He referenced research showing that Snohomish County relies upon science, technology, engineering and manufacturing students far more than it's producing such STEM students, and echoed calls for a four-year college campus in the area to focus on those fields.
When McClellan opened up the floor for input, Logan agreed with him that transportation funding is a priority, recalling how this year's Easter egg hunt just off 172nd Street exacerbated its bottleneck traffic. She went on to point out that different towns, and even different areas within towns, must offer their own unique attractions to visitors, businesses and residents.
"Arlington has to have a different identity than, say, Monroe," Logan said. "Downtown Arlington offers cute little shops, but Smokey Point needs to be attractive to big box stores, and part of that is that people need to get in and out of those stores easily, without congestion on 172nd Street."
Randy Bellon of Bowman in Arlington lamented the loss of institutions such as Shoreline Community College, as well as reductions in vocational education in many high schools, to start training the skilled workers of tomorrow. Derick Balsa of AMT in Arlington agreed with Bellon, explaining that his company has created its own internship training program, while acknowledging that certain types of training are beyond their capability.
"We're behind the curve," Balsa said. "As our business keeps growing, our need for trained workers grows exponentially."
Kevin Duncan, who was representing both Arlington Flight Services and KVA Electric, suggested that fellow STEM-reliant businesses take advantage of apprenticeship programs whose state funding he described as under-utilized, while Tom Larson of Columbia College in Marysville encouraged further internship programs, especially for veterans, who make up 70 percent of his student enrollment and often lack experience in the civilian workforce.
George Boulton of Arlington's Flowers By George objected to the proposed closures of a number of local post offices, asserting that many small businesses depend on such services, and was seconded by Duncan in his criticisms of bank chains' dealings with small businesses. As for Tolbert and Zimmerman, they agreed with Logan that communities should play to their strengths.
"This is am amazing place to live and work, but nobody knows about it," Tolbert said.
"Arlington needs to communicate its natural attractions," Zimmerman said.