A strong economy is the essential engine that fuels all other elements of a healthy community. Without it, our region and its residents cannot thrive. A strong economy creates jobs and security.
It gives people confidence in tomorrow and helps them care about today. It encourages them to enjoy the arts and the outdoors and to participate in community life.
To cultivate a healthy economy, our region needs to maintain a quality of life that attracts and retains businesses of all sizes. It also needs to nurture the workers who live here and ensure that they can compete for jobs. Our human capital is an asset—and it is up to us to make sure everyone has the chance to contribute to and benefit from regional prosperity.
Access to quality education and training is essential for workers to meet the demands of today’s jobs, and of tomorrow’s jobs as well. Equally important is the chance for individuals to plan for their futures, build assets and savings, and live self-sufficiently. The same goes for small businesses, which need resources, such as technical assistance and capital, to develop.
Unfortunately, even in good economic times, many people face significant barriers—such as access to transportation, childcare and job training—that prevent them from acquiring the skills they need to get a better job, increase their financial stability or start a small business. Some populations have a particularly hard time gaining ground, namely people of color, immigrants, refugees, women, and people living in depressed urban and rural areas. In 2007, nearly half (48.9 percent) of all income in King County went to the top 20 percent of households while less than one-twentieth (3.5 percent) went to the bottom 20 percent.
Among those who stand to benefit most are people who are already employed in low-wage jobs. They may be janitors at a hospital, cashiers at the local grocery, cab drivers or commercial window washers. They have money to buy food and keep their apartment lights on, but they can’t get ahead long enough to get more education or build up assets enough to increase their financial security. They’re stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place.
And yet, in a region known for its leadership in industry and innovation, our economy depends on cultivation of a highly skilled, well-trained workforce. Access to training and education can help pave the way to a better job and a more stable life. To provide that training, effective programs are designed to fit people’s lives and existing work schedules. Community colleges, for example, are looking to offer condensed or convenient weekend or night classes and other innovative new programs provide training on actual job sites in a work-and-learn setting.
Likewise, programs that offer business support and networking opportunities to low-income entrepreneurs help to ensure that we are cultivating innovation throughout our region, helping to develop the small businesses that will go on to become the next Microsoft, Boeing or Starbucks—major corporations that
not only impact the global economy but also attract more talent and diversity to King County.
Nonprofits and philanthropy cannot support and implement programs like these alone. They need partners in industry, government and education to help ensure that workers receive the training they need to work in fields where demand for employees is high, such as healthcare and clean energy.
In healthy communities, economic vitality becomes a reinforcing loop. People need living wage jobs in order to earn money, save money and spend money at local businesses, which then go on to employ other employees and so forth. For the whole of King County’s economy to prosper, we need all of the region’s people and businesses to have the chance to be strong and secure.
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