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Originally published Tuesday, September 27, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Plenty of work to do in plan for regional economy

The latest plan to grow the regional economy isn't so much a detailed set of policy proposals as a giant "to-do" list. The dozens of items...

Seattle Times business reporter

The latest plan to grow the regional economy isn't so much a detailed set of policy proposals as a giant "to-do" list.

The dozens of items on that list range from the small and specific, such as extending existing state tax breaks for aerospace manufacturing to R&D and engineering work, to the big and vague, such as developing consensus on tax reform.

The strategy was developed over the past year by the Prosperity Partnership, a group of 150 local governments, businesses, labor organizations and nonprofits from throughout King, Pierce, Snohomish and Kitsap counties.

The plan is to be formally adopted today by the Central Puget Sound Economic Development District, the federally recognized planning agency covering the four counties.

The overall goal is to create 100,000 more jobs in the region in the next five years, beyond the 290,000 new jobs already forecast to be added over that time.

Information on the Web


The draft final version of the PP strategy is at: http://www.prosperitypartnership.org/strategy/index.htm.

The strategy emphasizes actions to develop five areas: aerospace, information technology, life sciences and biotechnology, transport and logistics, and alternative energy, "green building" techniques and other environmentally friendly businesses.

It also identifies several initiatives to improve the region's overall business climate, chief among them:

• Developing a consensus higher-education reform proposal for the 2007 Legislature, which could include such objectives as giving colleges and universities more flexibility to set tuition and expanding course offerings at branch campuses.

• Developing a "balanced, pro-competitive" tax-reform bill for the 2007 Legislature, building on the efforts of the 2002 Gates Committee.

• Supporting a regional transportation plan to fix or expand major area roadways.

Bill McSherry, economic-development director for the Puget Sound Regional Council — one of the partnership's lead agencies — acknowledged the strategy has a lot of blank spaces that need filling in.

The plan avoids specifics on regional transportation, McSherry said, because of Initiative 912, on the Nov. 8 ballot. The initiative would repeal the 9.5 cent-a-gallon gas tax enacted by the Legislature.

"We don't know what the reality is for transportation in 2006," McSherry said.

And, he said, getting broad consensus on higher education and tax reform won't be easy.

"If someone could have figured out what to do with higher ed in six or nine months, they'd have done it already," he said. "Our goal is, let's start picking off the things we can do in the short term, while we lay the groundwork for the long term."

Janet Pack, a business professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, was largely unimpressed after reviewing the 67-page strategy.

Pack, who has extensively studied urban and regional economic development, questioned two of the partnership's key assumptions: that the four-county region is a single, integrated economic area, and that by working together the region's communities can largely determine their economic future.

"There's not much more in this than 'we're all in this together' and 'we all have to pull together,' " she said. "But I'm not sure 'we're all in it together' when you're talking about 82 cities. I can see them fighting over almost every one of these [action] items."

In addition, she said, most communities that have consciously tried to attract or build specific industries have little to show for their efforts.

"It's not clear that there is much local government can do to make [clustering] happen, other than things like having a good school system and not having a tax system that drives people away," Pack said.

Drew DeSilver: 206-464-3145 or ddesilver@seattletimes.com

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