WTIA / Information Technology Coalition
For the last twenty years, the tech industry has been responsible for more than 60% of employment growth in Washington. 2012 saw over $2.9 billion generated in B&O tax revenue for the state, representing an increase of more than 300% since 1994 — four times the growth of the overall state economy during the same period. In fact, technology-related employment has increased by 119% over the past two decades, and now accounts for 27.5% of all jobs in the state.
While the merits of a growing, vibrant tech industry benefit everyone, the Washington Technology Industry Association’s (WTIA) “IT Coalition” is hard at work to ensure the contributions of our industry are not taken for granted. http://www.washingtontechnology.org/advocacy/coalition.aspx
As a co-founder of Synapse Product Development, one the coalition’s eight establishing firms, I had the opportunity to join several other local business leaders, and lobbyists, in Olympia. We met with members of the state legislature to deliver this poignant message: Despite substantial tax revenue generated by R&D incentive programs, state leaders have not made the necessary investments to ensure continued growth and vitality of the tech industry.
Several factors need to be addressed, not the least of which is Washington State’s non-compulsory stance on funding for higher education. That’s right, our government is not required by law to provide any funding for education beyond K-12. Nevertheless, in 2007 funding for universities represented 11% of the state budget ($3.581 million). In 2009, however, that number fell to 10%, and is currently an even smaller 9% of the overall budget. To put that into perspective, ten years ago state funding accounted for 70% of all state school budgets (UW, WSU, WWU, Evergreen, CWU, EWU, etc); only 30% was covered by tuition. Today, merely 36% of tuition cost is funded by the state, leaving students to make up the staggering 64% difference.
More alarming is Washington’s rank nationwide: 37th in high school graduation rates, and 38th in bachelor’s degrees per capita. Equally shocking is the failure rate of Washington 10th graders. Take for instance 2011, when 25% failed algebra, 20% failed geometry, and 37% failed biology.
Because the Washington State Legislature only creates a new budget once every two years—during a brief period from January to March—now is the opportunity to make a difference. By speaking with lawmakers, we sought to increase our industry’s prospects for success, which contributes to the state economy via job creation and personal income growth.
Here are the steps we proposed:
- Increase the ability of our higher education systems to produce qualified candidates for high-tech jobs by restoring lost funding, and prioritizing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) degrees.
- Improve the talent pipeline by enhancing the effectiveness of our K-12 system, and making the skill of computer science available to every high school student.
- Create a more fertile business environment to attract new technology companies by supporting university tech transfer commercialization efforts.
- Focus state revenue policy on growth in the tech sector, with tax policies that encourage investment and R&D.
The Economic Development Council of Seattle and King County further reinforced this message in their recently published annual Economic Forecast. It contains an article titled “Local tech sector key to sustaining regional economic growth,” adding emphasis to the timeliness of this endeavor.
See the full report, including a nice photo of Thomas Wu in the Synapse Seattle lab, here: http://edc-seaking.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/enterpriseSeattle-1-11-13-4c-low-res.pdf
Finally, here are four of the interesting ideas that surfaced during our visit:
- Differential tuition programs that allow in-demand degrees to cost more. (Last year, UW turned away 75% of their qualified candidates for computer science degree programs.)
- State-assisted recruiting programs for tech industry talent to bridge the talent gap and help tech businesses find out-of-state engineers.
- Ear-marked funding for higher education that correlates with specific metrics (i.e. the number of STEM-related degrees issued per year)
- Marketing campaign spoofing the 1996 TV movie: Mars Needs Women—Washington Needs Engineers! (OK, I made this last one up.)
With budget shortfalls affecting everything from transportation, to basic human services, it’s clear there is not enough money to go around. Nonetheless, I was heartened to see hard-working, dedicated people collaborating on creative solutions to these problems.