The Cascade Industrial Center, Arlington’s and Marysville’s joint effort to encourage industrial development — and bring more local, family-wage jobs to those communities — is seeing success in attracting potential tenants, including rumored-but-not-confirmed interest by Amazon and the sale of property to a company linked with the spacecraft company Blue Origin.
But even with the significant jobs those projects potentially represent, the Cascade Industrial Center has room to grow among its 4,000 acres near the Arlington Airport and its hopes to support as many as 20,000 direct jobs.
Which is why it made sense among state lawmakers in 2015 to adopt legislation — following the region’s economically devastating Oso landslide in 2014 — that allowed the cities involved and Snohomish County, to attract new employers with a tax break on the local portion of property taxes. The problem has been that the legislation, written with north Snohomish County in mind, was a little too specific about the parameters for which cities might qualify and underestimated the county’s population growth.
Because of the county’s steady growth in recent years, the CIC and its tenant companies no longer qualify for the tax break because Snohomish County’s population — estimated now near 840,000 — exceeds the original legislation’s limit of 800,000.
State Rep. Emily Wicks, D-Everett, who was appointed to the 38th Legislative District seat last May to fill a vacancy, then won election in November, has proposed a fix that would boost the population limit to 900,000, again putting the tax incentive into play. The legislation, House Bill 1386, would also extend the deadline for applying for the break, from its current date of Dec. 31, 2022, to Dec. 30, 2030.
But Wicks also has taken the opportunity to build on the original legislation. While reopening an incentive that will benefit businesses — offering up to a 10-year break from the cities’ and county’s property tax collections — and adding transportation companies to the industries that would qualify, Wicks has also proposed new language that would increase the average wage that employers must offer to qualify for the tax break to $23 an hour, up from the original $18 an hour, and offer health insurance coverage to employees.
Additionally, the legislation also specifies that to keep the tax incentive — and avoid having to pay back-taxes — businesses employing at least 25 workers have to maintain those family-wage jobs. Further, the cities managing the applications for the tax break must give priority to businesses that are or contract with women- and minority-owned firms, participate in state-managed apprenticeship programs, and hire workers living locally.
(Note to Wicks’ fellow state lawmakers: The next time they consider a tax break for Boeing, include Wicks on the negotiation team.)
“Having lived and worked in this community for most of my life,” Wicks said during a House Finance Committee hearing on the bill this week, “I know that we still struggle with the fact that jobs are few and far between. In fact, nearly 70 percent of Marysville residents commute outside of Marysville for work.”
The mayors of Arlington and Marysville also spoke at the hearing in support of the legislation’s economic necessity, as did Snohomish County Council member Stephanie Wright.
Currently, the legislation would apply to only two industrial areas in the state: the CIC and Paine Field, noted Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring. With Paine Field’s acreage already built out, Nehring said, the CIC “is where the job growth in Snohomish County will be coming.”
When first adopted in 2015, the legislation was specifically targeted at providing assistance to the Stillaguamish Valley, following the Oso landslide that for years closed Highway 530 and hampered the region’s economy, noted Arlington Mayor Barb Tolbert.
“When we did an economic recovery plan for the Stillaguamish Valley, we recognized that these low-income census tracts needed to have jobs, family-wage jobs for the people throughout the valley,” she said.
While the legislation’s target is the CIC, the impact of the legislation will be wider, Tolbert said.
“The growth that’s occurring all across Snohomish County and Washington state requires us to expand our job centers and keep our families working where they live and alleviate them from the long congested commutes out of the county,” she said.
The legislation faced no testimony in opposition during the hearing, but raised one question to Nehring and Wicks from 31st Legislative District Rep. Drew Stokesbury, R-Auburn: “Why limit it only to your community?”
King County’s population of 2.26 million would disqualify Auburn’s participation, for example, even under the new limit.
Both Wicks and Nehring said they were open to expanding the legislation’s reach, as long as it didn’t delay adoption. Nehring noted that at least one business now at the CIC hoped to qualify for the tax break, but currently can’t apply because of the current population limit.
If the legislation can be amended to include more communities throughout the state — without delaying its implementation for the CIC and without diluting its wage protections and other labor goals — it should be extended.
With no impact to state revenues, the locally focused tax breaks would be an option for cities and counties to offer if they want to use them as an incentive to attract employers. But Wicks and local Snohomish County officials were there first with the proposal to update the original bill; that foresight should be honored by keeping the legislation on schedule.