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What happens in the ‘other’ Washington matters, too

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Last month, two dozen business leaders from Washington state headed to the “other” Washington to meet with our state’s congressional delegation and hear from key insiders about what to expect on everything from trade and health care to environmental and immigration policy.

It was the third annual “D.C. Fly-in” led by the Association of Washington Business, and it came at a remarkable time in our nation’s history. In the last 24 years, there have been just three Decembers with a presidential transition underway.

The trips are important because decisions made at the national level can impact Washington employers and the economy, just as the decisions made by state lawmakers in Olympia impact employers.

Given Washington’s dependence on exports, it will come as no surprise that trade was one of the top issues AWB members discussed in D.C.

Imports and exports are major economic drivers across the state, including the Wenatchee region, which borders the 4th and 8th Congressional districts. Between the two districts, 42,000 jobs are tied to exports with a combined total of nearly $8.3 billion worth of goods and merchandise manufactured and exported, according to the Washington Council on International Trade.

With a full 40 percent of jobs tied to trade, congressional and administrative talk of completely upending the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) or retooling the North American Free Trade Agreement has ripples all the way to cities and towns across our state that rely on robust trade to create the financial base needed for families and local governments.

Likewise, most congressional districts rely heavily on agriculture to sustain the local economy and the industry is a mainstay for the job base. And the technology sector is fueling strong growth in the Seattle area. So, it’s no surprise that employers stressed to congressional leaders that Washington state requires a coherent immigration policy that meets the needs of both workers and farm families, and the tech sector.

In addition to these important topics, business leaders shared their concern about the rising cost of health care insurance even as access falls, particularly in rural parts of the state.

President-elect Trump has committed to “repealing and replacing” the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and to authorizing carriers to sell insurance across state lines. It’s not clear yet what that looks like or how it will impact our state.

But, as a state heavily invested in the ACA state health insurance exchange program, employers are rightly concerned that state budget impacts from a change to the ACA could fall directly on them in the form of new and higher taxes. They are also concerned about the potential impact to association health plans, which provide affordable health care to thousands of small businesses and their employees.

Similar to Washington state, the current federal administration has relied on Executive Orders to make regulatory moves on issues Congress failed to pass. Many of the regulations, whether it is climate or overtime policies, have a negative effect on the economy.

These policies create uncertainty in both cost and tax obligations to reach compliance and raise understandable concern about unelected bureaucrats promulgating expensive polices for which they have no clear legislative authority.

All of these topics are woven into what AWB aims to do through its advocacy and action: grow the economy in every corner of the state, creating prosperity in communities and lifting up families.

It was a great trip and served as a good reminder that what happens in the “other” Washington matters just as much as actions in Olympia.

Kris Johnson is the president the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business association representing nearly 8,000 small, medium and large employers.