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Constantine: Things looking up in a down economy
Getting people up and working again in a down economy remains King County's top priority.
Such was King County Executive Dow Constantine's message to the Auburn-Area Chamber of Commerce Luncheon on Monday at Emerald Downs.
Now there is a bright spot, Constantine said, because things in the Seattle Metropolitan area, which includes Auburn and Kent, are starting to perk up.
Quoting numbers compiled by the National Bureau of Labor Statistics, Constantine said that the three-county metropolitan area in 2011 showed the ninth-highest job gains of the 100th largest metropolitan areas in the nation. Collectively, Dow said, the largest metropolitan areas in the nation added about one million jobs last year.
Constantine went on to cite a recent study of 366 metropolitan areas throughout the nation that gave the Seattle metropolitan area a third-place ranking as the strongest local economy based on sustained growth over the past 20 years.
The Puget Sound region, Constantine said, has led the revival, especially in the manufacturing sector.
Indeed, he said, over the past year this region has led the nation in manufacturing job creation, showing an increase of 7.3 percent, or 12,600 jobs.
Accounting for "fully half of that growth," Constantine said, was the manufacturing sector, led by the Boeing company,
Constantine praised the work of the King County Aerospace Alliance, a broad-based partnership of local jurisdictions, chambers of commerce, the Port of Seattle, local economic development groups and educational institutions like school districts and universities, for working to expand and prosper the aerospace industry in the Puget Sound Region.
"Here in King County ... we've been able to maintain the kind of access to a middle-class future that has really been the foundation of the American dream," Constantine said.
Constantine said that one of his goals is to make access to higher education a priority, so that when the Boeing Company or Microsoft look for people to fill high-paying jobs, recruiters won't have to go halfway around the world to find qualified people.
The state of Washington, Constantine said, is creating 850 new slots for engineering students at the University of Washington and at Washington State University. The King County Workforce Development Council has awarded $900,000 to community and technical colleges to provide certificated training for specific skills needed by the Boeing Company and aerospace suppliers.
Constantine noted that he and King County Councilmember Bob Ferguson have recently proposed to put about $2 million from the Veterans and Community Services levy into a new aerospace and veterans employment training initiative.
"It's a two-year program from Workforce Renton that helps veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan transfer the skills they have learned in the military into good-paying jobs in the aerospace industry," Constantine said.
Constantine praised the City of Auburn's new Innovation Partnership Zone designation, which puts research, workforce training and private sector participation in close proximity to promote collaboration, which can lead to new technologies, products and companies.
A woman from the audience asked Constantine to assess the impact on the Port of Seattle of bringing an 18,000-seat capacity basketball stadium into Seattle's SODO district, where baseball and football stadiums already exist.
"The transportation impacts would be mostly after the time the Port of Seattle is closed at 4:30 p.m.," Constantine said. "Most of the games there would in the evening. There are challenges today, and they have not been properly addressed. One is freight getting to and from the Port. The second is the more diffuse problem of warehousing and manufacturing businesses trying to move their goods around, and then commuters coming through...
"The new arena would marginally worsen those problems but would not be the difference between night and day. What we need to do is to address the challenges we have now, and by so doing we would address issues attached to having a new basketball arena," Constantine said.
Constantine noted that with the economic collapse, the recent spate of annexations and the passage of initiatives there is virtually no money to spare for road maintenance or construction.
"We've dropped many, many hundreds of roads employees, and that means that a lot of secondary roads in the rural areas are not getting appropriate maintenance ... There's not enough road funding inside of our cities either. So we are looking to the state, collectively, for some kind of help in getting a system of funding that appropriately addresses the infrastructure that our grandparents built for us and that we have a responsibility to maintain," Constantine said.