CEO Adviser: A Banker’s View


As a banking “lifer,” I have spent most of my career in the private sector helping Washingtonians achieve their financial goals. But, in 2013, my career track took a detour, and my business skills were tapped in a new way as CEO of the Washington Department of Revenue. I’m now back in banking, sharing with business clients what I learned while in public service. 

State government is very interested in the success of small business, which makes sense when you consider that, in 2012 (the latest year for which statistics are available), Washington’s small businesses employed more than half — 1.2 million — of the state’s private workforce. 

In the spirit of nurturing those businesses and the tax revenue they generate, state government has developed a menu of services that are meant to help — not just tax — small business. 

Here’s a sample of helpful programs from three departments that  could benefit your business as early as tomorrow.  

Department of Revenue
Did you know that DOR makes house calls? Washington’s tax system is based on voluntary compliance, which means businesses are expected to know tax laws and report accordingly. But did you know that DOR offers multiple ways for businesses to determine exactly what taxes to collect, report and pay?

Upon request, DOR makes free visits to review business activities and prescribe proper reporting. And don’t worry. If errors are found during consultations, there will be no audit or penalties. 

Don’t want or need such close scrutiny? Every month, the department offers free new-business tax workshops across the state, as well as live webinar versions.

DOR may be in the business of tax collection, but it’s important to know that it wants to help businesses pay the right amount — and not a penny more.

Did you know that DOR will offer advance tax rulings on new business lines? Before undertaking new ventures, businesses can request rulings either by mail or online on how a new transaction or line of business will be taxed in Washington. And as long as the business abides by its own description of the venture — and as long as the applicable laws don’t change — the DOR’s decision is binding.

Did you know your call really is important at the DOR? I suspect it’s never occurred to you to call Revenue with a tax question — after all, it will take all day, right? Wrong. The department’s customer service standard requires that calls be answered by a knowledgeable staffer within two minutes 80 percent of the time. And that knowledgeable staffer will be friendly! Performance is monitored using customer service scorecard results, a standard that I’m proud of having introduced as CEO.   

Employment Security Department
Did you know that layoffs aren’t the only answer when business slows down? When facing a temporary decline in business, companies can turn to ESD’s Shared Work Program to avoid laying off workers. Shared Work enables business owners to reduce payroll while the workers supplement their reduced wages by collecting partial unemployment. That translates into immediate savings for businesses and prevents the loss of skilled employees.

Did you know that businesses can earn tax credits for hiring certain employees? ESD experts can explain how to earn the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, a deduction employers may claim on their federal income tax returns for hiring veterans, felons, people with disabilities and those receiving public assistance. Later this year, WorkSource will unveil its revamped website, powered by, further transforming the ways ESD connects employees and employers. 

Department of Labor & Industries
Did you know you can keep injured employees on the job and get help with payroll? L&I’s Stay at Work Program helps employers provide light duty to injured workers by covering part of the cost. L&I reimburses a business for half of an employee’s base wages, up to $10,000, when a worker is on medically approved light duty during recovery. The state also helps pay for training and materials to support the worker’s transition.

Want more? To see data-driven results of Washington’s progress in fostering an innovative economy, visit Think of Olympia as a resource with timely services and talented experts who could very possibly make your day. 

Carol K. Nelson is Pacific regional sales executive and Seattle market president for KeyBank.

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