For places such as Grays Harbor, that are navigating through a “disruptive economy” that favors technological innovation, the key is a government that works across party lines, providing education and training that allows for faster entry into the workforce and investment in infrastructure to make the region more attractive to future development, said U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell.
The senator visited Aberdeen Monday and sat with The Daily World editorial board for a wide-ranging interview as she campaigns for her fourth term.
She sees promise in technical training and apprenticeship programs to more quickly train young people for immediate placement in the workforce. She told of a high school student earning credits toward a two-year degree and taking a welding course in Mason County. “He has three job offers already and he is a senior in high school,” she said. “Making the transition faster is critical in our economy, and the more skills you have equals better wage growth.”
Cantwell believes economic growth in this age is “more about efficiency and collaboration.” She talked about how recent fire legislation in the Senate was able to move forward because legislators from both sides of the aisle got together, discussed what was needed, and made it happen. “Collaboration is the next phase of innovation,” she said.
That approach, she said, will lead to solutions that will help the Olympic Peninsula, and the nation, through this unique economic time.
“Talking about the Peninsula, when we’re trying to figure out how to do this, fear of the future is the wrong approach,” said Cantwell.
A renewed focus on building capacity for new businesses through infrastructure improvements could spur economic development, said Cantwell.
“We need to work harder to build capacity so we can be ready now” for new business opportunities, she said. Infrastructure improvements, like the dredging projects in the Chehalis River at the Port of Grays Harbor and in Westport, are critical, as are projects such as the North Shore Levee, and the expansion of broadband communications.
Cantwell believes the system in place to determine the reach of broadband and the areas that need it need to be more transparent.
“There is not a good consensus of where the fiber (optic cable) is,” she said. “The FCC is supposed to identify the gaps, then use universal funds to fill those gaps,” but the system for identifying gaps in service needs to be streamlined. Access to high-speed communications is one of the major contributing factors to economic development in any region, but quality schools, access to health care, transportation and housing are also factors that need to be considered, she said.
As for oil exploration, Cantwell said, “We want the administration to follow a process that is very transparent. They said they were going to look at drilling everywhere, but when we have such a critical fishing industry here, they shouldn’t even study it. It’s not worth the money.” And while it appears recently oil exploration off the West Coast is not on the table, Cantwell said it’s important to stay vigilant and attend public hearings on the topic when they arise.
Cantwell supports federal funding for tsunami evacuation towers, but says the creation of a long-term survival plan is critical to surviving a tsunami event. “We know more on the science side, now we need more on the planning side,” she said.
Rural health care
“We need more primary care providers and we need community-based health care residency,” said Cantwell. The big teaching hospitals across the nation get the most residency slots, and Cantwell said gaps in health care accessibility could be addressed by encouraging more residency slots in rural areas.
She said the gap in health care is made more difficult to address as communities such as Aberdeen are often lumped in with Olympia in designation areas. She said by creating smaller designation areas the Harbor could be better served, along with offering non-taxable incentives for providers to practice outside of larger cities.