The View from Washington State: Information Technology Sector Vital to the Future of Washington State

Editor’s Note: This post is part of a monthly series from Microsoft called “The View from Washington State”. The View from Washington State provides insight and commentary on topics and trends of importance to technology, education, corporate citizenship and public policy in Washington State.

Washington’s Governor-Elect Jay Inslee has made job creation his #1 agenda item. He has called innovation the “secret sauce” to creating more jobs, spurring more economic activity, and helping to cure state government’s lingering budget woes.

Governor-Elect Inslee is the one of many elected leaders in our state that takes pride in the size and scope of Washington’s information technology industry. These elected leaders understand that the industry has been a driving force in helping the state weather the recession, continuing to create thousands of new, well-paying job opportunities even as the overall economy has foundered. 

But even as these leaders flash the thumbs-up signal when national magazines tout the achievements of Washington’s technology sector, not everyone understands just how important the IT sector has become to our state’s future … or what policies should be pursued to help support the industry and build on its current strengths.

A recent analysis conducted by the Washington Research Council found that the IT sector has accounted for nearly two-thirds of the state’s job growth, and for more than half of employee compensation growth since 1990. Washington can’t afford to take such an important industry sector for granted.  

If Washington doesn’t nurture its innovative companies, other areas are ready to pounce. As the Research Council study noted, “Other states and regions witness the success of states with strong innovation clusters and strive to replicate it. They offer incentives, make education and infrastructure investments that the sector finds essential, and provide start-up assistance in the form of incubators and accelerators.”

This competitive threat is what’s driven the creation of a new technology industry coalition, of which Microsoft is a member, to help ensure that policy makers and opinion leaders across the state recognize the full contributions of the industry and understand how they can sustain its growth and momentum. The coalition’s primary goals are to alleviate the talent shortage facing all IT companies and help create a more competitive business environment so that information technology companies continue to locate and expand in Washington State. Some of the coalition’s immediate goals:

  • Higher Education. Prioritize higher education funding within the state’s budget, and increase the number of computer science and engineering graduates annually.
  • K-12 Education. Implement the already adopted Common Core State Standards and their companion assessments, adopt next generation science standards, and greatly expand the availability of computer science instruction in high schools. The coalition will also support other innovations in K-12 education, such as those that recently resulted in a consortium of South King County school districts winning a $40 million “Race to the Top” grant from the federal government.
  • Business Environment. Maintain the state’s competitiveness with respect to incentives for companies to invest in research and development activities here. 
  • Support Innovation. Improve linkages with higher education institutions to improve technology transfer and research and development spill-over. Provide support to young companies working to commercialize new innovations.

Directly and indirectly, the IT industry already provides some of the very best jobs around. Work by Dr. Enrico Moretti shows that the multiplier effect of high technology industry employment brings job growth and income expansion that’s not matched by other industries. 

What’s more, the products and services created by Washington’s technology industry are improving how people around the globe work, live, learn, communicate with each other, and entertain themselves. They are a key to the economic and social health of our state. The new Information Technology Coalition will help ensure that they can play an even larger role in the future.

About the Author

Government Affairs Manager, Microsoft