From Microsoft to Olympia: Q&A With Rogers Weed, New Washington Commerce Chief

4/15/09Follow @xconomy

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on what the priorities are, and how the government can help. I see an opportunity to bring my background in and help tighten up that connection.

X: What do you mean by that? Do you mean educating lawmakers about real-world business concerns, or is it educating the business community about what they can and can’t do in Olympia?

RW: It is partly bringing to Olympia the private sector perspective on different policy things they are thinking about doing there. If they want to pass a law that does a certain thing around worker rights, well, how’s that going to be received in the business community and what are the impacts? It’s not my decision about whether our unemployment insurance is higher or lower. My job is to make sure the legislature and the Governor understand where we stack up, versus other states and countries that we compete against. Because we are competing against all of them, all the time.

X: CTED has a very broad mission. What has it really done historically, and what are you going to try to change about the agency?

RW: One of the things that struck me coming in, is that CTED administers 180 programs for the state government with a staff of about 370 people. So that to me is pretty impressive. They obviously have a reputation for being able to do some things fairly efficiently. The flip side of that is, ‘Wow, there are 180 programs in CTED, that’s kind of a kitchen sink.’ I’m new, so I don’t know all the reasons that’s ended up that way. I know the Governor would really like to have a focus on business and job creation from me. The plan I have is to engage with the agency and the stakeholders to think through what that means this summer.

There are some people that want to reorganize CTED right away. Most situations I’ve been in, you want to figure out your plan first, and then figure out the right organization you need to pursue the plan. I’m trying to say to people, ‘Let’s get a thoughtful plan together first and then think about how we organize to achieve that.’

X: What are two or three of your best, specific ideas for how you create jobs in this climate, or what your agency can do to help?

RW: It’s easy to say we need more money to do this or more money to do that. I’m not ready to say that’s true yet. I think there are things we can do in terms of policy we create, and how it affects the cost of doing business in the state. How much red tape is there in registering with the state, paying your taxes, getting permits to do things, and are there opportunities to streamline that? The easy thing to say is, ‘We need more money so we can invest in more things’. That may be true, especially with the budget cuts we have. The other thing is, ‘How can we be smarter with the money we have?’, and look at things that may not involve money but are still very important to business. How do we reduce the friction that comes with being innovative and doing business in the state?

X: You mentioned at your talk that you subscribe to three principles in terms of how you think about innovation. Can you explain those?

RW: Since I just thought of them last night, I don’t know how much detail I can give you. But there are three. “Invest in the Inputs”—that’s education, workforce training, infrastructure, business attraction, and recruitment. Then there’s “Champion the Culture.” I don’t think it takes a lot of dollars to do that. You can shine spotlights on the kind of things we want to do more of in the state, and celebrate those things. Recognize them and reward them. That’s not a lot of dollars, but super-important. The third one is “Minimizing the Friction.”

I talked to a friend of mine right before I took the job, who had just wrapped up a small company he had started. He had not made it. He said, ‘If I could have just written a check … Next Page »

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