Keeping Washington State Competitive in the Global Economy

November marks the end of a very long election season. It also marks the start of a new beginning. After all the campaigning and the political ads, November provides all of us a time to come together and prepare for the fast-approaching new year.

For example, here in Washington State, a new year gives us a new opportunity to forge new working relationships across the aisle and to coalesce around a shared vision for our state. At a recent meeting of the Washington Council on International Trade, I outlined one possibility for that shared vision with some thoughts on how we might keep Washington competitive in the global economy.

Like most places throughout the country, our state faces a number of significant challenges. But Washington also has some unique strengths. One big opportunity comes from the fact that Seattle is the largest city and port in the continental United States that is closest to Asia. This will not change, and there are a number of different ways that our state should be thinking about how we might build upon this. As more Asian companies look for places to locate their North American operations, we have the opportunity to create incentives to make our region a national leader in attracting these direct investments.

We are also the home to a thriving tech corridor second only to Silicon Valley; we need to make sure that our tech corridor (which currently lacks a name) is as well-known and admired, both at home and abroad, as Silicon Valley. We also should take the lead in promoting trade without barriers on the kind of services our tech sector provides. And we need to continue moving forward in addressing the state of intellectual property protection – especially in emerging markets – to help ensure that our tech sector can actually get paid for the innovations it takes to market internationally.

Our challenges – a pronounced skills shortage and education and transportation infrastructures that are inadequate for the future – are familiar to the country as a whole, and they require a forward-looking reinvestment strategy. As Microsoft has talked about at the national level, we in Washington State need to invest in improving K-12 standards, in STEM courses and especially in computer science. We need to stop cutting higher education funding and invest instead in college completion, particularly for students in the STEM fields. And we need to make new investments in our ports and airports, our roads and bridges and other local infrastructure crucial to support the kind of growth we are aiming to attract and promote.

Above all, we need to act with a sense of urgency. While there are great opportunities ahead, we know that our window of opportunity will not remain open forever. We also know that other regions are moving fast to put their best competitive foot forward. Now is a time when big decisions will either be made or delayed. We should come together across party lines, across the public and private sectors, and across state and local government to embrace a common vision of the future – and then get to work to make it a reality.

About the Author

General Counsel & Executive Vice President, Legal and Corporate Affairs, Microsoft

Brad Smith is Microsoft's General Counsel and Executive Vice President of Legal and Corporate Affairs. He leads the company's Department of Legal and Corporate Affairs (LCA), which has approximately 1,100 employees located in 55 countries. Mr. Smith is responsible for the company's legal work, its intellectual property portfolio and patent licensing business as well as its government affairs and philanthropic work. He also serves as Microsoft's corporate secretary and its chief compliance officer. Mr. Smith currently co-chairs the board of directors of Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) and is the chair-elect of the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity. In Washington state, Mr. Smith has served as chair of the Washington Roundtable, a leading Washington state-based business organization, and he has advanced several statewide education initiatives.