Expanding communities, creating jobs

Washington state’s development of its own trade relationship with Pacific Rim countries is essential in the development of a strong local economy, according to Lt. Gov. Brad Owen.

“International trade doesn’t represent the whole enchilada,” he said. “But our purpose is to expand our communities with new ideas that create jobs. We should always be looking to see what markets are out there and how we can meet their needs.”

Owen addressed a Port of Bremerton luncheon on Wednesday.

Owen said that Washington, due to its geographical location and its specific businesses — high-tech, agriculture and aviation — is ideally positioned to maintain an international trade profile.

“The opportunities are endless,” he said. “If we dream a bit, we can identify these emerging markets and determine the goods and services we can provide. We can predict these economic changes and be ready for them when they occur.”

This has a lot to do with understanding local culture, he said. For example, cell phones are popular in Mexico due to the lack of an adequate land line network. This differs from the United States, where cell phones qualified as luxury items until recently.

Another example is China, which he said has evolved from being about Mao jackets and bicycles to blue jeans and sports cars.

“There are lots of examples of businesses taking advantage of China’s desire to change,” Owen said.

Owen, first elected in 1996, is now in his third term. He has become state government’s strongest international trade advocate, assuming that mantle from his predecessor, Joel Pritchard, and former Secretary of State Ralph Munro.

Owen also cited Pritchard’s predecessor, John Cherberg, who served eight terms, as “a leader in international relations.”

Owen said Washington is one of the most trade-dependent states in the nation, and that four of five export destinations are in Asia.

Exports to other countries are rapidly increasing — 2004 exports to Russia and Chile virtually doubled over the previous year. Other increases are India, at 34.2 percent and Mexico, 40.1 percent.

Owen said the state needs to prepare future generations for trade possibilities, specifically by strengthening science and language education in public schools.

According to Owen, creating new trade agreements may provide an opening to help offset the trade deficit brought about by a dependence on foreign oil.

He also psuhed for an attitude change, from the top down.

“If we had a president and a Congress that better understood these possibilities, we would get a lot more done,” he said.

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