In May, Washington State University’s Carson College of Business released a new report, Business in the Northwest 2018, examining how the region’s business leaders feel about the business climate today, how they are preparing for the future and what they need to succeed. In Washington state, 8 in 10 business leaders feel the climate is changing in a good way, but 74 percent feel their company needs to step up its innovation efforts to stay ahead in the market.
Issues such as traffic congestion, housing availability and job loss to automation are top-of-mind factors perceived to be hurting the local community. On top of that, Seattle City Council’s recent approval—and then reversal—of a head tax on large companies has likely increased the level of uncertainty leaders feel about the future of business in the area. As the city continues to grow, the report sheds light on the delicate balance between community and business needs as well as how business and policy leaders can collaborate to address them.
Government support needed to solve community issues
While most business leaders feel their company contributes to local economic growth and overall quality of life, they also are looking to government to help solve problems stemming from recent rapid growth. They even consider government polices as one of the biggest influences on their success.
In Washington, business leaders say the top five local/state policy changes that would benefit their companies most include: lower state business taxes (31 percent), more public transportation options (30 percent), more affordable housing options (28 percent), decreased transportation costs (25 percent) and lower local sales taxes (25 percent).
Technological advances will affect the workforce
Business leaders are also reacting to immediate and expected technological changes and are ready to face the challenges, which are immense. According to a McKinsey Global Institute study of 46 countries and 800 occupations, up to 800 million global workers could be displaced by automation and need to find new jobs by 2030—a fifth of the global workforce. What is uncertain here is the future of jobs: while many jobs may go away, history tells us that many other new jobs will be created, some within industries, some across industries, and some in industries –we have barely begun to think about.
With this in mind, Seattle businesses must consider how technological advances, such as automation, will affect their workforces. Here there was less focus on government policy and much interest among leaders in what businesses will need to do: in fact, eighty-seven percent of those surveyed agree that in order to maintain their reputation, they need to consider retraining programs or new job opportunities for workers displaced due to technological advances.
Wage equality is next big thing
Business leaders also see wage equality as a key differentiator in the Northwest, with 1 in 4 reporting the “next big thing” the region will be known for is more livable wage increases. Importantly, 72 percent agree that reducing the wage gap between leadership and entry-level employees will be important to consider, and 87 percent view implementing more livable wage increases as a driver of reputation.
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) plays a role, too, as 60 percent of business leaders feel their employees prefer a clear corporate responsibility mission with measurable impacts on the community over a heavy focus on profit.
Tackling these issues together
Business and government need to find ways to work together to address these issues. We in higher education also have an important role to play. We must effectively develop the talent Seattle businesses are seeking by preparing our business students to successfully meet the evolving needs of employers and the community. Graduates must be ready to seize opportunities and emerge as leaders who will create even more growth and opportunity in the region. And our universities must be “classrooms for the community” to bring us all together to find twenty-first century solutions.
For businesses that may be afraid to tackle tough issues—I say don’t be. Consumers are looking for you to lead. This trust should be viewed as a mandate to take action, foster meaningful partnerships and find creative solutions.
Larry W. (Chip) Hunter, was appointed dean of Washington State University’s Carson College of Business in 2015. He leads the college in its mission to create insight and opportunity through the study of business and the power of our community, for Washington state and the world.