State lawmakers want to revitalize rural economies

Rural communities in Washington often get overlooked amidst all the attention about the intense economic growth of Seattle and its surrounding cities. But Washington is much more than just Seattle.

State Rep. Mike Chapman (D-Port Angeles) represents the 24th Legislative District, which includes large portions of Grays Harbor County. He understands that our small towns, many of which have been strongly connected to forestry, need more ideas to boost their economies.

Rep. Chapman wrote an op-ed last week in the Sequim Gazette about some lessons he and his colleagues, Reps. Brian Blake and Steve Tharinger, took from a Rural Development Listening Summit in Grays Harbor, covering cities like Aberdeen, Hoquiam, Forks and Port Angeles.

While we’re blessed not to have the traffic gridlock and high housing prices of the Seattle-Tacoma-Everett area, timber and farm country still struggle with some of these basics needs. We heard about the doctor shortage in rural Washington and the need for affordable childcare—because if working moms and dads can’t find a safe place for their young kids they can’t work. We need to find solutions for every working family.

One large step forward could be cross-laminated timber, Chapman writes.

Like the way wine has revitalized Walla Walla, innovation can work here on the Olympic Peninsula also. We have the opportunity to be a leader in cross-laminated timber, which is what the Gateway Center in Aberdeen will be constructed with and what we’ve used to build elementary school classrooms around the state, including in the 24th Legislative District.

Making that happen will take cooperation between timber companies, local colleges, loggers, architects and builders. The rewards could be enormous—with the side benefit of making forest-thinning projects profitable, creating STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) jobs in the woods while reducing the danger of wildfires.

There will be a lot of work ahead, but the goal should be galvanizing for rural communities.

The next step is us all working together — Republicans and Democrats from timber, farm and port towns to urban cities and suburbs — to restore the American dream of thriving small towns around our great state of Washington.