Ray Moser, KCEO Economic Policy Advisor: The Axelerate Interview

December 14, 2012 · By · Consulting, General, Puget Sound Business, Staffing Agency, Technology · Tags: , , ,

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King County Executive Office Economic Policy Advisor and Business Relations Manager Ray Moser

Axelerate recently sat down with Ray Moser, King County Executive Office (KCEO) Economic Policy Advisor and Business Relations Manager, at his downtown Seattle offices.  The interview was part of an ongoing research initiative Axelerate has undertaken exploring the opportunities and challenges of creating greater coordination, cooperation and communication between State, County and Municipal Government, citizens and the Private Sector.


Q: What is it exactly that you do in your role as Economic Policy Advisor/Business Relations Manager for KCEO?


A: I manage the King County Aerospace Alliance, and I manage the Executive Small Business Awards. I’m the Executive’s liaison to the Economic Development Council, to the Workforce Development Council, and to the Economic Development District of the PSRC, where we worked heavily on the rural strategy.


Our goal is to promote and preserve lasting regional prosperity. We want to make sure we have a business climate that allows businesses to be globally competitive, and to thrive and be innovative. We want to make sure that we have employment opportunities for everyone in the county; that there is equity and social justice. And we want to make sure that we do all this in a way that it is sustainable.


Q: Tell us more about how the Economic Development Council works.


A: The EDC has been around since 1985. The original charter members were the City of Seattle, the Port of Seattle, King County and Metro, and a host of smaller jurisdictions and corporations. The basic mission of the EDC has been to be that retention and recruitment face of King County.  Rather than have a company from out of state try to connect with 39 different cities, there is the EDC there to provide economic data, referrals for site assistance, and whatever other information a company considering site location here would need, as well as work with existing businesses on issues to make sure we retain those.


We use informally the 80/20 rule: 80% of resources are spent on working to keep what we have here; we don’t want to lose those homegrown businesses, and 20% on strategic recruitment. There is a five-year plan that dovetails with the regional economic strategy that was passed by the Regional Prosperity Partnership (a four-county regional economic strategy for King, Kitsap, Pierce and Snohomish).


Q: Where are the biggest opportunities?

A: There are ten major industry clusters that the four counties have agreed to focus on. And then, under that, several actions that will help nurture and promote each of those clusters. The areas of focus for King County EDOC are Aerospace, Clean Technology, Life Sciences, Interactive Media, and Financial and Banking.


Q: What are we your goals?


A: To make it easier to do business with King County, and to provide greater opportunities for small businesses.  When Dow Constantine was running for Executive in 2009/2010, he continually heard how difficult it was to do business with King County and so he wanted to correct that.  So we’ve been on this procurement reform. I began in March of 2010, and we’ve made significant progress. In fact, the time it used to take from a bid to contract execution has been reduced by 52%, and in that same timeframe for construction contracts has been reduced by 63%.


We’ve also increased the number of small contractors and suppliers in our system from 800 to over 1200, and we’ve made partnerships with both the port and Sound Transit to participate in this. We all use the same application, the same eligibility standards and the same online database for firms seeking jobs with any of those three entities to look and see who is certified, and whom they can use. So that is a regional system that we have perfected.


Q: Tell us about the Regional Contracting Forum.


A: Ten years ago was every public agency had procurements throughout the year. And as a small business it was hard to navigate each one of those, so we have the major entities: the Port, the City, Sound Transit, University of Washington, King County and many other entities now participate in the forum. Small businesses can now use this to make contact with Primes and make a connection there — to find out what kind of business the Prime does, and what kinds of requirements they have, and generally establish a relationship.  That has been very successful; we had around 1700 people attend last year.  It takes place every March at the Convention Center.  It is free, and open to the public.


Q: How do you balance economic and environmental concerns?


A: We recognize sometimes the economy and the environment are pitting against each other.  We see it, as they are complementary to each other.  Growing businesses need a clean environment, and the environment needs to understand the market in order to succeed. So we look at Profits, People and Planet, or Economy, Employment and Environment.

Lasting regional prosperity is the real goal. And two of the real keys to that are Transportation/Infrastructure and Education and Training.  That is where we see the best bang for the buck – in terms of improving this economy, and keeping it at the forefront, not just of Aerospace, but IT, Life Sciences.  By comparison, this region has fared pretty well out of the recession.


Q: How are we in the Puget Sound Region doing comparatively with other parts of the country?


A: We are doing really well. But, particularly in aerospace, there are other regions that are after our work. There are a lot of Southern States, and Midwestern States that are putting a lot of money into workforce education. They don’t have the restriction of the constitution that we have for lending on credit, so they can make land available. So we have to be smarter in how we make sure we not only maintain what we have, but grow it.  It was a real boon that Boeing decided to put the 737 Max here, now we have got to make sure that we have the workforce to produce that.


They are going from 35 planes a month now with the NG to 42 by 2014. At the same time they are going to start the 737 Max. So at some point, it is likely that 60 planes a month will be coming out of that facility, without expanding. Just through lean processes and efficiencies. So we must have the transportation systems that can bring the raw materials, and the fuselages out of there. We have to make sure that our King County International Airport is equipped to test all of those, and to park those planes. And we have to make sure that we have the workforce to meet the demands to make them.


Q: So you are saying the challenges to retaining Boeing are workforce development, transportation and infrastructure?


A: I would say workforce development is the number one issue. Transportation is a big issue in terms of moving their goods, getting their supplies in and getting their goods out.


Q: How important are taxes to this equation?


A: When you look at site selectors, and you look at the number of things that are important, taxes are usually farther down the list. They are not the number one or number two issue. Tax certainty is what businesses want. Level of tax, you can plan for that. I’ve heard consistently from CPAs and from some other businesses that they can live with the taxes as long as they know what they are, they can plan for them. But if it is uncertainty, and one year they are up and the next they are down, they don’t like that at all.


Q: What is happening at the King County Aerospace Alliance?

A: What we continually hear is that there is a critical need for highly skilled people, both at the technical and the professional level. A significant portion of Boeing engineers are eligible for retirement in the next five years, and a significant portion of their production workforce – machinists, in the next five and ten years are eligible for retirement.  Boeing has told us that over the next two or three years they will lose 30,000 people system wide by attrition.  They need to replace those.


The Workforce Development Council put in $800,000 into short-term training over this last year. The Governor had a $3 million aerospace budget. There are various things going on to try to promote the opportunities for technical work in aerospace.

One of the things we are doing in April, in concert with the Renton School district is we are having Aerospace Career Promotion Day. There are 19 School Districts in King County, and we’re taking career and technical educators from each of those school districts to the factory floor. Each one of them will see at least two companies, and see how they are working, to see what kind of skills are needed, to see that they are not dirty industries, they are high tech, so that when they go back they can be excited about Aerospace opportunities. And when they council their high school kids about opportunities.  Some will go the four-year route to a higher education, and some aren’t ready, some don’t want to, and can’t afford it.  So here is another avenue – go to a community college, get a certificate, start as a machinist for $20/hour, plus benefits. That’s not bad.

Q: Any other major challenges or opportunities that we haven’t talked about?


A: Transit is a big challenge. We had the Congestion and Relief Tax that was funded; that the Legislature gave the County last year. It was $20 in addition to your license tabs, and that was to help fund the shortfall in our Metro Transit System. That runs out in June 2015, and if we don’t have another source of funding, we could lose up to 17% of the transit system in King County, which is significant. They have made a lot of adjustments in service, and taken a look at where the demand is, but ultimately, unless there is another funding source, significant cuts will come, which will of course hurt workforce and companies.  So that is a huge, huge issue that both business and government and labor should be behind. It is in everyone’s best interest. And of course there is Equity and Social Justice.


Q: What does Equity and Social Justice really mean?

A: I think it means opportunities for everyone: access to good education, access to decent food, access to decent housing, and those kinds of things. The South End of King County is significantly poorer than the North End, and so we need to do things to make sure that we educate kids in those communities, and get them opportunities for jobs in the future; and Aerospace is one of the areas that they can go to.


Q: What will King County actually do? Are you guys coming up with money that will funnel down to the South end?


A:  One of the things that we are doing as part of the Regional Economic Development Strategy is to replace something called Performance First. This year before the regional economic strategy was approved, we said where is the part about small, minority and women-owned businesses.  So the PSRC, the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, King County and the City of Seattle have been the only ones that have expressed interest in doing something along those lines. So we are going to meet in January. And talk about what can we do to get our larger- and medium-sized companies that don’t have supplier diversity programs involved with that. To understand that there is actually a business case here.


If you use a small company in Auburn that can produce the same thing you are buying from California at roughly the same price and the same quality, there are transaction and transportation cost savings. At the same time, you are building the economy here in King County. So we want explore how we can get more our larger- and medium-sized companies buying locally.


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