Next Steps for Washington’s International Competitiveness

Yesterday, Microsoft  Executive Vice President of Legal & Corporate Affairs Brad Smith was the featured keynote speaker at the Washington Council on International Trade Conference (WCIT) luncheon in Seattle. The conference, which was attended by more than 300 of the state’s business, government and community leaders, provided a forum to learn and discuss issues surrounding international trade policy. Through the lens of the technology industry, Brad gave his perspective on the steps needed to increase Washington’s international trade competitiveness.

Brad noted that, in his travels around the world meeting with government leaders, economic development authorities, and leaders at universities and non-profits, everyone is asking the same question. Whether in an advanced or an emerging economy, people want to know what it takes to compete on a global scale, and specifically what it takes to develop and attract the necessary talent. 

In the U.S. and in Washington, Brad said a great strength we can build upon is the diversity of our population, which is more reflective of the rest of the world than any other country. On the other side of the equation, our education system is becoming a weakness and is straining to keep up with the challenges of the future, which will reduce our overall competitiveness unless we make significant new investment. Jobs, he said, will leave this country and go where the talent is if we cannot supply it here at home. As he has at the national level, Brad called on the state to reinvest in higher education and K-12 education.

Brad also outlined the opportunity he sees for a new approach to economic development in the region, leveraging existing assets and new investments to increase our international competitiveness, including:

  • Branding and marketing the Puget Sound tech corridor, the second strongest tech cluster in the nation after the well-branded and well-marketed Silicon Valley;
  • Leveraging our geography and diversity by developing a strategy to lead the country in attracting direct investment from foreign – and specifically Asian – companies looking to expand their operations, their research centers, their sales and support centers, in North America;
  • Coming together as a region to make the necessary investments in our ports, airports, roads, bridges and other infrastructure necessary for sustained economic growth; and
  • Building upon the fact that 40 percent of all jobs in Washington are tied to international trade by looking at emerging markets and beyond for new trade opportunities, promoting the rule of law and staying vigilant on enforcement of intellectual property protection.

This can only happen in a bipartisan, comprehensive and coordinated manner.

As Brad stated in his discussion yesterday: “We have some big problems to we need to address. But we have some huge opportunities in front of us. We need to act with a sense of urgency if we’re going to solve the problem and seize the opportunities.”

The full transcript of Brad’s speech is available here.

Editor’s Note: This blog post was updated on Nov. 15 with new information.

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