We recently had the opportunity to sit down with former Governor Gary Locke to learn what he has been up to and his thoughts on the greater Seattle region as we approach economic recovery from Covid-19.
After his historic achievement becoming the first Chinese American to be elected governor in United States history, and the first Asian American governor on the mainland, he went on to rank Washington as one of America’s four best managed states over the course of his two terms. He oversaw the gain of 280,000 private sector jobs and more than doubled the state’s exports to China.
Mr. Locke continued to demonstrate his innovative leadership capabilities serving first, as U.S. Secretary of Commerce from 2009-2011, and then as U.S. Ambassador to China from 2011-2014. He has also been a senior advisor and consultant for the Davis Wright Tremaine (DWT) law firm where he consults with DWT’s domestic and international clients in several areas including trade, regulatory, and investment issues from local to international levels.
Not resting on his laurels, starting June 15th Mr. Locke will become the interim president at Bellevue College. His immediate priorities are paraphrased and quoted below:
1. Campus Culture: Bring healing and calm to the campus, which has recently been torn apart after the defacement of the art installation that marks the anniversary of the Japanese internment camps in World War II. A recent Seattle Times article reported that “more than a fifth of the college’s 29,120 students and 1,508 employees are Asian and Pacific Islander, according to college demographic data.”
2. Educational Experience: How do you provide personalized, enriching and meaningful instruction in a Covid-19 environment with so much being done online? You can’t teach welding or brain surgery over the Internet.
3. Budget: With the looming state budget cuts because of the drop in revenues due to this economic freefall, how do you pay for instruction on campus at a time when more students will be signing up for courses?
“Our higher education system has to be a part of the economic recovery strategy.”
Mr. Locke’s second priority is especially interesting given his history. In 1998, the New York Times published an article about 850 professors at the University of Washington who had signed an open letter to Gov. Gary Locke because they were worried about the enthusiasm he had shown for instruction via CD-ROMs and the Internet. What is incredible about the timing is that the group Locke tasked to envision the future of education was called the “2020 Commission.” Locke never said that the internet should completely replace the importance of in-person education, but the mere idea of it playing a central role in the learning experience hit a nerve. It was a misunderstanding. In a recent interview with Geekwire, Locke confirmed his views – then and now – by saying:
“I’ve always been a major proponent of that personal interaction between the faculty and the students,” he said. “Clearly, using technology can make it easier for both faculty and students. But there’s still no substitute for that human interaction.”
More from our conversation:
How do we engage the world as we emerge from Covid-19?
I think you are going to see a move to diversify supply chains. Goods will be produced more locally so you are not dependent on the supply chains and politics of other governments. And these goods will range from medical supplies to computer chips and semiconductors, to key components that are used for high tech, military and space applications. Is the state of Washington uniquely positioned in that restructuring of the economy? I think so. We need to build off many of our strengths in high tech, life sciences, aerospace and food processing. We also have low costs for energy.
You have so much to be proud of in regards to your work with Asia and China specifically. What do we still need to do going forward?
We need to showcase the fact that this Washington has always been outward looking and outward leaning. We are a relatively young state filled with an incredible diversity of people and different cultures. It has really become a part of the fabric of the Pacific Northwest. For example, so much of the art and architecture of the Puget Sound area is influenced by Asia.
“We need to let people know that we are a very welcoming state, and that we have an incredible diversity of people and cultures from around the world, and we view that as our strength.”
What steps do we need to take to grow our exports and improve our trade relationships given recent challenges? What are some new opportunities for us?
So much of what we make and produce is highly valued and in great demand around the world. We just need to help our local companies more with exporting. 60% of the US companies that do export only do so to one country, typically Canada and Mexico. We should be helping them export to two or three additional companies. We need to focus more on partnerships and collaborations with the U.S. Commerce Department and their Gold Key Service program – to state efforts like the Department of Trade and Economic Development who hosts trade missions – to regional efforts to work with existing companies to help them find new international customers.
Economic development is a very competitive sport with other regions offering low costs for doing business, incentives and strong university systems. And these areas will probably up their game even more to recover quickly from Covid-19. What do we need to be doing?
First, we need to focus on our existing companies and shore up our base. For a lot of these companies, after an economic downturn, they don’t typically return to their same job levels. How do we ensure that the workers who are affected by all of this are still able to have a future? We need to put much more effort into training and retraining and upgrading of skills – so that these companies can be competitive and nimble – and that workers have a future either with these companies or others.
Historically, Washington has not utilized incentives like other regions. Does that need to change to address economic recovery?
I think we can be more focused and surgical with tax credits when it comes to job training, retraining, and, perhaps, on retention of existing companies. A McKinsey report said that by the year 2030, 5-10% of the world’s workforce will be displaced by AI and robotics. Do we really want to wait until 2030 to address this? We need to start thinking now about tax incentives and public/private partnerships for job training. Perhaps we need to rethink employment insurance as well. Should we use it like a flexible saving account for job training?
What is your Greater Seattle message to the world?
We are a pretty easy going. Pretty humble community. A lot of pride, but we like a bit of obscurity. We like to tell people it rains a lot because we don’t want too many people moving into the area. We like our local traditions, festivals and community gatherings. We are kind of quirky. But there is a big spirit of community involvement and people pitching in and caring for each other. We are actually a pretty cosmopolitan city with a small town attitude.
We are always open to new ideas. The incredible diversity from around the world, and that constant infusion of new ideas, cultures and perspectives, is what really makes our region so dynamic and exciting.
What would you advise a future Governor on steps that he or she should take to position this region effectively?
Making sure the needs of citizens are addressed, and that the government is efficient, responsive and taking care of their priorities. Citizens want to know that their tax dollars are being spent wisely. There will never be enough money to pay for everyone’s wish list, so it is really important for government to prioritize and do a few things well verses trying to do too many things in a mediocre fashion. But we have to ensure we have a good foundation for future success, which means investing in education. K-12, but also our higher education institutions. They are economic engines.
Mr. Locke, it was a pleasure speaking with you. Thank your for providing your perspective, and we wish you great success in your new role at Bellevue College.