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Milestone meeting: AWB Policy Summit celebrates 25th anniversary

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There’s nothing like a birthday that ends in a zero or five to make one pause and reflect a bit on the past. I’ll admit I’ve been doing some of that lately as the staff of the Association of Washington Business prepares for the 25th anniversary of our annual Policy Summit in September.

The AWB Policy Summit is a three-day gathering held each fall that brings together the state’s leading business leaders, lawmakers and policy officials to talk about issues that affect the economy — everything from taxes and regulations to health care and human resources policy.

This year’s summit is Sept. 16-18 at Suncadia Resort near Cle Elum. Retired four-star Gen. Stanley McChrystal will deliver the keynote address Sept. 17.

McChrystal spent the majority of his military career in special operations before becoming commander of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan. He learned a lot about leadership during his 34-year military career and I look forward to hearing him speak.

Since the beginning, the Policy Summit has attracted the top leaders from within Washington.

The first Policy Summit, held in the spring of 1990, featured a lineup that included Gov. Booth Gardner, entrepreneur David Sabey and U.S. Rep. Al Swift.

The issues of the day were the environment, health care, education and job training, according to a newsletter account of the event.

Not much has changed in a quarter century, has it?

Gov. Jay Inslee, who is scheduled to kick off events the morning of Sept. 17, has made climate change his top priority, so environmental issues will receive top billing at this year’s Policy Summit.

Meanwhile, employers continue to come to grips with the Affordable Care Act.

Legislators face continuing challenges to increase school funding in light of the state Supreme Court’s McCleary ruling.

And the skills gap continues to be a major issue for employers, particularly in high-tech and manufacturing.

Twenty-five years is enough time that many of the CEOs who attended the first Policy Summit have either retired already or they’re preparing to retire.

That’s why this year’s Policy Summit includes a panel discussion on the next generation of CEOs. It will include Michael Senske, president and CEO of Spokane-based Pearson Packaging Systems, as well as several other next-generation leaders who have already moved into top leadership positions.

Other highlights of the summit include a panel discussion featuring some of the leading Washington mayors, another panel on the issue of climate change, a look ahead at the state budget, and a keynote luncheon address from Brad Tilden, CEO of Alaska Airlines.

The Policy Summit has grown and changed over the years. In 1992, it featured its first gubernatorial debate between future Gov. Mike Lowry and Attorney General Ken Eikenberry. The debates have since become a quadrennial tradition.

And while the first Policy Summit was held in the spring, it has turned into a fall tradition.

Despite some changes through the years, the Policy Summit has remained true to its original concept —to give business leaders a place where they can come together and hear directly from the elected officials and state agency officials who make decisions that affect their companies, their industries and the entire state’s economy.

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