Attorney General Rob McKenna challenges businesses to innovate

October 29, 2010

By Laura Geggel

State Attorney General Rob McKenna answers questions from audience members at an Issaquah Chamber of Commerce luncheon Wednesday. By Laura Geggel

NEW — 8 a.m. Oct. 29, 2010

Enlisting the political magnetism of state Attorney General Rob McKenna, the Issaquah Chamber of Commerce kicked off a three-month program focused on innovation Oct. 27.

Throughout his talk, McKenna focused on the necessity of innovation, locally, statewide and nationally, before he answered questions from the audience.

He praised Issaquah companies, like Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria, Democracy Live, Restorix/Innovative Health and SearchMarketMe, for their innovation, and congratulated the city for attracting Dataram Corp., a manufacturer of computer memory, storage products and software. Dataram announced recently it would open a development and testing facility in Issaquah.

“Now, why did they decide to come here for their testing and development?” McKenna asked. “Simple, they said because there is a rich technology talent pool and a welcoming business climate.”

As about 60 chamber members lunched on chicken salad and iced tea at the Hilton Garden Inn in Issaquah, chamber Chairman Chris Hysom introduced McKenna, the 17th attorney general to serve Washington. Voters elected McKenna, a former King County councilman, in 2004 and again in 2008. McKenna is considered a potential Republican candidate for governor in 2012.

He then took a step back from Issaquah, and talked about innovation in Washington and the nation.

America still has the biggest GDP, but other countries are catching up, he said. To illustrate how Issaquah, and even the United States, can keep its competitive edge, McKenna reviewed the six pillars of competitiveness and innovation.

First, predictability and certainty helps companies plan for the future, including stability that comes from consistent government taxes or regulations, he said. Second, fiscal sustainability helps businesses flourish.

“No one wants to be in a state or a city that is in deep fiscal stress,” McKenna said. “That’s one of the reasons California is losing businesses.”

Third, “we have to look at ways to make it less costly to start a business,” he said. It’s “very complicated and difficult to start a business and hire that first employee.”

Fourth, businesses need adequate infrastructure, with aspects like available transportation.

In the time it took to Washington to even decide to build a third runway a Sea-Tac International Airport, China had built an entirely new airport, he said.

“It is a problem for our region that it is so painfully slow for us to make decisions,” he said.

Fifth, businesses need a workforce who had vibrant K-12 and higher education opportunities. Early childhood education helps children, especially those from disadvantaged background, start school at the same level, he said.

He pointed out that one-third of all students don’t finish high school on time, and that California uses fourth-grade assessment scores to determine how many prison cells its going to need in the future.

“It’s that good of a predictor,” McKenna said.

Universities need more money, not less, even with budget woes, he said.

Finally, sixth, businesses need rational labor policies dealing with both legal and illegal immigration. He pointed out that Microsoft opened a site in British Columbia because it was having trouble acquiring work visas for its international employees.

If these six pillars were in place, innovation could flourish and help bring the nation out of the Great Recession, he said.

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