By John Wolcott HBJ Freelance Writer
OLYMPIA — It’s great to have high employment in Snohomish County’s manufacturing businesses, but it won’t thrive if people can’t get to their jobs, trucks can’t deliver their cargo and traffic congestion drives employers away.
Also, if the state isn’t creating and maintaining a healthy and attractive environment for businesses in the county, “there are many states from South Carolina to Texas and elsewhere who are already working to entice our businesses to their states,” said Economic Alliance Snohomish County CEO Troy McClelland, who’s been working with state legislators as the scramble for project and funding priorities gains momentum.
“Because so little attention is being paid to road projects in Snohomish County in early budget proposals, we’re seriously concerned that the state doesn’t realize how important this vast manufacturing corridor is to businesses from Arlington and Everett to Bothell and Edmonds,” he told The Herald Business Journal during a phone interview from Olympia.
McClelland believes a “call of action” is necessary to make sure state officials and legislators “understand what a strong segment of the economy we maintain up here and the attention and investment needed to keep it healthy, as well as keeping those businesses here.”
He and his staff are working to inform legislators about the importance of funding projects in the North Puget Sound Manufacturing Corridor that include the widening of Highway 531 (172nd Street NE in Arlington) and the 156th Street NE overpass at I-5 south of Smokey Point that would provide improved access for Marysville’s proposed high-tech business park.
Other projects needing attention include an upgrade to Everett’s U.S. 2 trestle, improving the Highway 529-I-5 interchange, Mukilteo’s multimodal terminal, the Highway 9 bridge at the Snohomish River and widening Highway 9, Highway 524 and other segments of the county’s essential roadway grid.
“We want to emphasize that Snohomish County is the manufacturing backbone of Washington state,” he said. “We have more than 63,000 high-tech manufacturing jobs, the second largest concentration in the state, and we have more than 170 aerospace suppliers.”
McClelland said the area is also important because of the state-recognized Bothell Biomedial Manufacturing Zone and the Aerospace Convergence Zone in the county.
An upgraded road network is important for Snohomish County, he said. Paine Field generates nearly twice the annual economic output of any other airport in the state. The Port of Everett is the state’s second largest port by economic output. Naval Station Everett, one of two aircraft carrier home ports in the state, supports 6,000 direct jobs and produes $425 million annually in local economic impact.
With adequate investment, McClelland argues, the county can continue to help lead the state’s economic recovery, as well as stimulate an environment that supports aerospace, engineering and medical-biotech education at local community colleges and universities.
“This is a rich economic center that needs the Legislature’s attention, McClelland said. “Snohomish County’s manufacturing sector accounts for $5.9 billion in wages annually, there are 34 industrial land sites totaling 700 acres between Paine Field and Arlington, and the global demand for commercial airliners is 34,000 planes valued at $4.47 trillion over the next 20 years.”
In addition to $890 million in transportation budget projects, EASC is asking for continued state support of transit agencies for businesses and residents; maintenance and preservation of the state’s existing highways, bridges and ferries; funding for local governments to improve local roads; and support for economic development projects, such as the Mountlake Terrace Street Revitalization Project, to promote local economic vitality.
“Along with our aerospace jobs there are 18,000 high-tech jobs in this corridor that contribute to the economy, according to numbers from the Washington Tech Industry Alliance,” McClelland said. “We need to make investments to keep these businesses functioning well because we’re competing with other states that want these businesses and their workers.”
Many of the county businesses and manufacturers have told him they feel under represented in Olympia and they believe more support is essential to improve and maintain the road network that supports thousands of jobs and millions of dollars of products.
“We’ve talked to dozens and dozens of businesses and what we keep hearing is that people are concerned about whether the Legislature clearly understands the importance of our manufacturing corridor’s needs and the value of that network to the state’s economy,” he said.