December 27, 2012 | Vol. 116 -- No. 36

Sending a message from West Plains to Olympia

Streamlining business communication, protecting Fairchild Air Force Base, reforming the state’s labor and industry insurance and developing equal opportunity K-12 education that includes business partners and entrepreneurship. These are the top-four of many ideas a group of West Plains business, civic and education leaders presented 6th District state Rep. Kevin Parker with at an informal lunch discussion Thursday, Dec. 20, at Spokane International Airport’s Ramada Inn.

Billed as “100 Ideas Luncheon with Kevin Parker” the event was sponsored by the West Plains Chamber of Commerce, with Parker acting more as a seminar facilitator than a legislator standing in front of constituents and listening to their issues. Participants broke into groups of 6-8 individuals around four tables, first brainstorming lists of 12-15 items of importance affecting the West Plains, reducing that list to a top three and then boiling that down to one headliner and providing a solution to the issue – a solution that came with a caveat.

“I’m going to throw you a curveball,” Parker told the audience. “It cannot cost money. If it does, where will you get the money?”

As was probably expected, one group picked supporting and protecting the mission and presence of Fairchild, something all four groups included on their original lists. The group asked that the state Legislatures be more of “an active advocate” for the base, as well as Spokane International Airport through supporting land use agreements and lobbying at the federal level.

Another group called for streamlined communications with small and/or new businesses through a web-based “one stop shop” to obtain information on such things as area demographic information, licensing and permitting requirements, zoning codes and other concerns. The group suggested that the site should also be interfaced with state agencies, and could produce efficiencies in the future by requiring fewer personnel to operate.

A table that included Cheney Mayor Tom Trulove and council members Doug Nixon, Graeme Webster and Jill Weiszman proposed allowing private insurance companies to participate in the state’s labor and industries insurance market as a way of saving businesses money. Trulove noted that 48 of the 50 states have some form of this, and Parker added that when Virginia privatized their L&I plan they saw a savings of about 30 percent.

Trulove suggested the state study some of these plans to see what would work in Washington’s situation.

“Certainly, among those 48 states there’s got to be some plans that work pretty well,” he said.

Finally developing an equal opportunity education system that put rural schools on the same footing as students in urban locations when it comes to educational opportunities was presented as a concern. The table advocating this pushed for developing some sort of workforce training that included utilizing partnerships with local businesses and industries, and the pursuit of federal grant funding where there was a requirement for entrepreneurship.

Some of the other ideas presented but not included in the final presentations were the widening of SR 904, water resource issues, planning and zoning, SIA expansion, infrastructure needs, possible tolling of the North-South freeway to pay for completion, green spaces, stabilizing and increasing K-12/higher education funding, public safety needs stemming from growth and bringing more aerospace and high tech companies to the West Plains.

Parker said he has done numerous events such as these over the past year or so, and offered to put on similar discussions for any group in the future. Among all the ideas presented and recorded, it was the top four that he said he would work on during session.

“This is the part I take back with me to Olympia,” he said.

John McCallum can be reached at jmac@cheneyfreepress.com.

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