Washington County travels to Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C. is a place that draws all of us in, no matter what your views are of the current administration. As I was landing at Reagan International Airport last week and flying over the Capitol and the National Mall, I felt my heart skip a beat. There is a national pride that comes over a person when seeing it all in person.
I traveled to Washington, D.C. as part of a Washington County delegation.
This delegation included Washington County Commissioner Roy Rogers, Tualatin Mayor Lou Ogden, Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle, Hillsboro Mayor Steve Callaway, Forest Grove Mayor Pete Truax, Hillsboro's Transportation Planning Manager Don Odermott, and Washington County's Government Relations Manager Jonathan Schlueter. The purpose of our trip was to meet with Oregon's federal elected officials and their staff to ensure future federal funding of projects and programs that are important to the citizens of Washington County.
We met with Congressman Greg Walden, Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici, Senator Ron Wyden and Senator Jeff Merkley's staff. We also met with Stanley Hardy, who works in intergovernmental relations at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
The message we delivered from the Westside focused on the strengths of Washington County, including the newly announced unemployment rate of 3.3 percent, the addition of 3,800 jobs over the past year, and the upcoming opening of the Hawthorn Walk-In Center for Mental Health and Addictions Care in Hillsboro, Washington County's first mental health urgent care center.
During these meetings, we also spent time reporting back to our federal officials about how allocated federal dollars have been spent in Washington County. The highlights shared included describing the Orchards at Orenco, both phase I and II, and Cornelius Place, where HOME funds from HUD for affordable housing have been spent. Each federal dollar allocated was leveraged by $7 in other funding sources.
The delegation made it clear to our federal representatives that the region faces a challenge for affordable housing. By 2020, Washington county is projected to need 13,000 housing units that will be affordable to households earning less than 50 percent of the median family income.
Another talking point the delegation touched on was the importance of the Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) program, which has aligned with Washington County's Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness. Once again, the county has been successful in leveraging the federal dollars by 3 to 1, but for the program to be successful, there needs to be confidence in the federal funding of the program over the next five years.
When it comes to workforce training, we stressed the need to continue funding programs that support training skilled workers. The theme of the discussion was a quote from President Ronald Reagan, "The best social service program is a job." In Washington County, we currently have about 10,000 unemployed individuals and about the same number of open positions. The continual challenge is to have a trained workforce that meets the skill requirements of today's job market. Nationally, investments in workforce development have a return of $1.72 for every $1 spent.
By the end of the first day of this delegation's trip, I had logged 13,000 steps on my Fitbit. I looked forward to the next day or two as I planned for meetings with the Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation and with more of our federal elected leaders. We advocated for transportation funding and discussed how we can meet the region's transportation needs by using local and federal funds.
I also joined the Oregon Business Plan's delegation. We stressed the importance of trade for our state and the value of maintaining relationships with existing trade partners. Healthcare was also a topic of discussion and the importance of having flexibility for Oregon and other states to continue creating innovative reforms. We also stressed the importance of adequate funding to make these changes possible.
It's evident Oregon's federal leadership in Washington, D.C. is working hard to ensure that our Westside region and the state are well represented. We should be grateful for the work they do. At the same time, it is our job to keep them informed about our region's needs and support them in their efforts.
Pamela Treece is the executive director of the Westside Economic Alliance. Her column appears monthly, addressing issues that are critical to the economic health of the Westside. Learn more about the WEA at: westsidealliance.org