Monthly Archives: September 2011

Don Brunell: Puget Sound prospers when Alaska prospers

By Don Brunell, president, president, Association of Washington Business
The 1896 Yukon gold rush triggered a boom for Seattle as prospectors flocked to ships bound for Alaska. In 1968, ARCO found black gold — oil — on the state’s North Slope around Prudhoe Bay, triggering a boom for Tacoma’s port where equipment was loaded onto ships and barges bound for our 49th state.

Today, Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell (R) is launching a campaign to bring more business to his state. Parnell, who served as Sarah Palin’s lieutenant governor, has been traveling the country telling people that Alaska is open for business. He says his state is a good place to invest, and he and the legislature are determined to make it even better.

One of the stops on Parnell’s whistle-stop recruitment tour was Tacoma, where he recently told a packed house at the Tacoma Transportation Club that Alaska’s doors are open for more Puget Sound business.

Cargo moving to and from Alaska accounts for more than 100,000 jobs in Puget Sound and some $3.8 billion in goods and services annually. Cruise ship and airline traffic create thousands more jobs and additional billions in revenue.

The Port of Seattle estimates that each Seattle-based cruise voyage nets the city $1.9 million, as passengers eat, shop and rent hotel rooms, and vessels stock up on supplies and pay for services such as unloading and trash disposal. But the Port expects to see about 62,350 fewer cruise visitors this year, a $53 million drop in income for the City of Seattle.

While the weak economy is mostly to blame, part of the problem was Alaska’s “head tax,” a per-passenger surcharge assessed on cruise ships calling on Alaska’s ports. Because the tax increased cruise prices, it caused Holland America and other cruise lines to curtail their Alaska-bound cruises. In effect, the 223 ships leaving Seattle dropped to 195. Alaska responded by lowering the tax.

That, noted Parnell, was just the start. While other states struggle with the stalled economy, Parnell says Alaska has lowered business-related taxes and streamlined permitting processes to attract more business.

Alaska is feeling the impact of an uncertain national economy, dwindling federal funds and declining oil production taxes. To keep the state fiscally sound, Parnell vetoed over $400 million in spending from the state’s $11.4 billion budget last year and set spending targets to help the state deal with the lean times ahead. At the same time, Parnell increased the state’s budget reserves to $3 billion partly to help stabilize education funding.

Parnell stresses the need for future energy development, and his budget includes more than $1 billion for energy projects, including hydroelectric generation and transmission, renewable energy grants, weatherization, home energy rebates and power cost equalization.

When asked if his initiatives would foul the environment, he said, “We live in Alaska and are not about to dirty our nest. In fact, we have some of the strongest environmental protections anywhere on the North Slope and I’d bet there is more contamination on a city street or parking lot in the lower 48. When a vehicle stops, a mat is placed underneath it in case it is leaking. That’s how clean we keep our environment. ”

Parnell wants to stimulate oil and natural gas production and plans to lower taxes to make its oil and gas more competitive worldwide. He says the pipelines, pumping stations and operations centers are already in place, and Alaskans have the knowledge and technology to ramp up domestic production — much of which comes to Washington’s refineries, where it creates jobs for our residents.

The good news is Parnell and Alaskans are looking to the private sector to create new jobs. Parnell’s pitch to Tacoma business leaders is simple and straight forward: “Bottom line, when Alaska prospers, the Puget Sound prospers.”

Statement on revenue forecast from the Association of Washingon Business

Authored by Association of Washington Buiness

OLYMPIA— Washington lawmakers must approach today’s disappointing revenue forecast with a renewed commitment to bipartisanship and a laser-like focus on creating jobs when they return to Olympia, according to AWB President Don Brunell.

“Today’s announcement of another substantial drop in state revenue means our elected officials will need to again commit to working across the aisle, as we saw at the close of the legislative session last spring. That’s the only way we’re going to solve these problems,” said Brunell.

“Right now, we need to focus on what will get our economy moving again – what will spur our small- and medium-sized employers to expand and start hiring again. Most of our 7,500 members have less than 100 employees in their shops, and they want to add jobs, but uncertainty over business costs — things like workers’ comp tax increases, regulatory and health care costs — are keeping them on the hiring sidelines. As Dr. Raha pointed out, our core economic industries like aerospace, information technology and agriculture remain strong, but still the economy lags.

We’ve got to find a way to bolster those other sectors and restore confidence in our economy,” he said.

“I don’t envy the work of the Legislature as they head into the 2012 session, but I know that if they can find ways to work together, it’ll go a long way toward solving the challenges that lie ahead.”

Size matters with health-care benefits, retirement plans

By Rachel Pritchett

Workers are more likely to receive health-care benefits if they work full time for a large company.
That is among the conclusions found in a new state study measuring changes that are taking place in health-care benefits and retirement plans as employers plow through increasing costs and a moribund economy.
The Department of Employment Security study showed that 97 percent of firms with 500 or more employees offered health-care benefits in 2010, but only 43 percent of firms with fewer than 10 employees offered benefits.
For part-time employees, 58 percent of the big firms offered them benefits, while a mere 8 percent of the small firms offered them.
Therefore size does matter.
Companies have gotten tighter on offering health-care coverage at all to full-time employees in 2010 compared with 2006. The drop was slight with the biggest employers — 99 percent down to 97 percent — but sharp for the smallest employers — 60 percent to 43 percent.
Premiums, no surprise, have gone up since 2006, most of the rise occurring after 2009.
A monthly premium of $355 in 2006 had risen to $427 in 2010, Employment Security estimated.
Also no surprise, employers are paying a smaller share of health-insurance premiums — 87 percent in 2010 compared to 89 percent in 2006.
As for retirement plans, employers of all sizes in 2010 were more likely to offer “defined-contribution plans” to their workers that guarantee a set contribution to an employee’s plan. These might include 401(k) plans and stock bonus plans.
They were less likely to offer “defined-benefit plans” that guarantee a predetermined benefit at retirement.
Companies of all sizes offering paid leave to full-time employees has fallen in 2006. Forty-four percent of employers offered sick leave in 2010, down 2 percent since 2006. Seventy percent offered vacation in 2010, as opposed to 74 percent in 2006. And 66 percent offered holiday pay in 2010, compared to 71 percent in 2006.
Just as with health-care plans, it’s the bigger firms that are far more likely to offer retirement plans. Ninety-one percent of Washington companies with 500 employees or more offered retirement plans. A mere 28 percent of firms with fewer than 10 employees offered them.
That’s troubling, since the vast majority of firms in Washington have fewer than 10 workers.

Burger Kings in Kitsap County cooking hot enough

After reports from state health officials about some Burger Kings in Washington not flaming their burgers hot enough, I asked the Kitsap County Health District people if we were affected locally.

The health district checked out all seven Burger Kings in Kitsap County in August after the reports, and all were found to be flaming their burgers at appropriately high levels, said Bonnie Petek, food safety program manager.

“They were all fine,” she said.

All the local Burger Kings have the same owner, Sound City Foods, Inc.

A problem was discovered July 29 at a Burger King in Puyallup, where burgers were cooked to 131 degrees, according to the the News Tribune of Tacoma. They need to be cooked to 155 degrees for 20 seconds to get rid of any chance of E. coli, said Tim Church, spokesman for the Washington Department of Health.

Since then, other counties reported that they’ve had problems, too.

“We had seven tell us that they’ve seen similar issues in their counties,” he said.

The New Tribune stated Burger King is inspecting cooking equipment in its West Coast restaurants.

Here’s the link to the New Tribune story. — Rachel Pritchett

Kitsap workers earn 5 percent more than national average

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released data Tuesday that showed that workers in Kitsap County earn 5 percent more in hourly wages than the rest of the nation.

In May 2010, the average worker in Kitsap County earned $22.44, according to the BLM, part of the U.S. Department of Labor.

Management occupations in Kitsap County were the highest paid at $47.39 an hour, followed by architecture and engineering occupations at $39.38 an hour.

Fifty-two of every 1,000 workers in Kitsap County in occupations either connected to architecture or engineering. That was the seventh strongest concentration of those types of workers in more than 400 areas in the nation, according to the BLM.

Production workers in Kitsap County earned $23.40, well above the national average of $16.24 and hour. Kitsap’s was the second highest wage rate for production workers in the nation.

Among production occupations, welders, cutters, solderers and brazers in Kitsap averaged $25.88 an hour, fourth highest in the nation.

Three occupational groups each had more than 10 percent of total employment. They include office work, sales and food preparation and serving.

Global stories: Save the date

Get out your calendar and circle Nov. 12, and join us for Global Stories at St Mark’s Lutheran Church by the Narrows. This year, we have some great workshops lined up. We will hear from a group of high school students about their mission trip . . . learn about Barb Robertson’s work over the past 12 years in Africa . . . find out about planning a global mission trip for your church group . . . and hear from Anne Bayse about “Sustaining Simplicity.”