Every year, the Washington Business Alliance releases an update to its PLAN Washington policy framework. PLAN Washington is a round-up of the best public policy ideas for improving quality of life in Washington State. We convene stakeholders from business, government, and the nonprofit community to determine shared priorities which become the basis for measurable goals. Then we identify the right strategies and specific policies to move the needle towards those goals. Here is a link to the 2016 edition of PLAN, which was published one year ago.

For example, in the environment section, PLAN Washington sets the goal of maintaining our low carbon electricity while meeting the load growth demanded by a growing population.

PLAN Washington is peppered with statistics about Washington’s performance relative to other states. This blog post will give a small taste of the new data we’ve uncovered while assembling the 2017 Edition of PLAN Washington. All rankings are from best to worst from the perspective of businesses with a rank of one being the best.


  • Exports Per Capita: 1st (2015) — Up from 2nd (2014)

We are number one again. We tend to switch back and forth with Louisiana for the top spot in this category. Washington exports brought a staggering $86.37 billion into Washington State in 2015. That’s over $12,000 in export value per capita. While our rank improved, total exports declined in Washington. The drop can be partly explained by the strength of U.S. dollars in foreign markets over the past year.

  • Exports Excluding Transportation Equipment: 13th (2015) — Down from 8th (2014)

Aerospace was responsible for the bulk of that exporting (59% or $51.15 billion). PACCAR and other truck manufacturers are also a mainstay of Washington State’s exporting. Outside of these sectors, exporting was relatively weak this year. Excluding the exports of commercial aircrafts and trucks, Washington’s exports were equivalent to 8.8 percent of personal income in 2015, a large decrease from the previous year’s 11.1 percent. Washington’s rate still remains above the national average of 7.6 percent.

  • High Wage Industry Share of Total Employment: 16th (2015) — Up from 20th (2014)
  • Growth of High Wage Industry as Share of Total Employment: 1st — Up from 6th (2014)

Ever since 2011, high wage jobs have been growing as a portion of Washington State’s total economy. Washington’s ratio of high wage jobs to total jobs has exceeded the national average since 2007, placing us 1st in the nation for the growth of high wage industry as a share of total employment. The state’s consistent improvement in the high wage share is due to growth in information technology, construction, and aerospace.

According to the state’s Economic Revenue Forecast Council:

“Nonstore retailing was the single largest contributor to Washington’s above average performance. In Washington State, electronic shopping (e.g. Amazon) accounts for 88% of nonstore retail employment. Washington nonstore retail employment increased 156% from 2010 to 2015 compared to 23% for the nation. Publishing industries employment (90% software in Washington), data processing, hosting, and related services employment and “other” information services employment (91% web search portals in Washington), also all grew much faster in Washington than in the U.S. as a whole. Through it is declining now, transportation equipment (89% aerospace in Washington) grew enough in the earlier years to have a positive impact over the five-year span. Finally, Washington has been leading the nation in construction employment growth in the last five years.”


  • Drinking water: 23rd (2015) — Down from 3rd (2014)

One of the the biggest shake-ups I observed in Washington’s place among the 50-state rankings concerned the quality of drinking water.

Under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), public water systems must abide by EPA standards. These standards are designed to prevent microbial, chemical, and radiological contaminants in drinking water. The EPA annually reports the number of systems whose water has violated SDWA standards. In the most recent data year available (2015), 4.9 percent of Washington residents were served by water systems that violated the SDWA. This is better than the U.S. average (7.9 percent), but it suggests Washington’s drinking water quality is trending in the wrong direction. More investigation is warranted to determine what is causing this slip in drinking water quality and what we can do to reverse course.

On the other hand, the EPA database prominently features this disclaimer: “NOTICE: EPA is aware of inaccuracies and underreporting of some data in the Safe Drinking Water Information System. We are working with the states to improve the quality of the data.”


  • Budget transparency: B+ (2016) — Up from B grade (2015)

This metric comes from U.S. Public Interest Research Group’s Following the Money 2016: How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data, the seventh annual report of its kind. Based on an inventory of the content and ease-of-use of state transparency websites, the report assigns each state a grade from “A+” to “F.” The leading states with the most comprehensive transparency websites are Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Oregon, and Connecticut.

Since its first edition in 2014, PLAN Washington has held up a Challenge Goal for Washington to earn an A+ grade in budget transparency in PIRG’s annual report card.

Washington’s grade improved in the most recent evaluation. The state now prominently features data on quasi-public entities (i.e., agencies, boards, authorities, and commissions) with web pages dedicated solely to these entities. Washington has also introduced significant updates to their transparency portal, including visualizations and summary data of some of the state’s largest tax exemptions. However, because the information is not recipient-specific, citizen watchdogs can’t analyze how a tax exemption granted to a corporation results in real value for ordinary Washingtonians.

“Washington has taken strides toward improving its transparency website, but, like all states, would benefit from a bolder focus on helping citizens understand the role economic development subsidies and quasi-public agencies play in the state,” said Bruce Speight, Executive Director of PIRG’s Washington State affiliate (WashPIRG Foundation).


  • Health Care Quality and Cost: Major variation across 55 Common Measure Set indicators

In the area of Health Care, the new edition of PLAN Washington will draw upon the Common Measure Set Washington State Common Measure Set for Health Care Quality and Cost (Common Measure Set). At present the Common Measure Set includes 55 measures which enable a common way of tracking important elements of health and how well the health care system is performing. The Common Measure Set is an important element in the state’s Healthier Washington initiative, an effort to improve health care in our state funded by a State Innovation Model (SIM) grant from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid.

Based on legislation passed in 2014 (ESHB 2572), a statewide performance measurement committee was appointed by Governor Jay Inslee to oversee creation of the Common Measure Set. Three technical workgroups researched and recommended the best indicators of health and health care quality. The workgroups were composed of representatives from health research, medicine, behavioral health, insurance plans, public health, health care practices, consumer groups, minority populations and the business community.

The Business Alliance is getting behind the Washington Health Alliance goal that Washington State providers will be in the top ten percent of performance nationally. On nearly every one of the 55 indicators, Washington falls short of this measure of excellence.

In their 2016 Community CheckUp report, the Washington Health Alliance uses the Common Measure Set to evaluate health and health care quality across our state. One of the more disturbing findings is the poor performance for “well-child visits.” The state has identified Well-Child Visits (along with Diabetes Care) as a critical area for improvement. Childhood is a time of rapid growth and change. Well-child visits allow doctors to provide preventative care and early interventions. Well-child visits don’t just help with reducing childhood disease– they enable early treatment of developmental delays or disabilities, as well as managing the risk for poor outcomes later in life such as unemployment, lowered educational attainment, chronic disease (e.g., diabetes, asthma and cardiovascular disease), mental health and substance use disorders, and violence victimization or perpetration.

Washington State has some work to do in order to achieve the Top 10% Goal on the well-child visit measure. For the commercially insured, the statewide average is between the national 25th and 50th percentiles. For the Medicaid insured, the statewide average is in the bottom 25%. Both are well below the state’s goal of being in the top ten percent of performance nationally.

  • Approximately one in four children (27 percent) who are commercially insured failed to get a well-child visit in the measurement period.
  • More than four out of ten children (42 percent) enrolled in Medicaid failed to have a well-child visit.
  • Variation is pronounced among medical groups as well as counties.

Coming Soon

The job of aggregating metrics was made easier by drawing on two sources for many of the metrics: the National Science Foundation’s biannual Science and Engineering Indicators report and the Washington State Economic and Revenue Forecast Council’s annual Washington State Economic Climate Study

This has been just a small peek behind the curtain at the development of PLAN Washington’s 2017 Edition. To see the final product, stay tuned to the Washington Business Alliance’s email updates. We are getting close to launch date for the new edition of PLAN Washington, a set of actionable recommendations to unlock or state’s potential.