Washington State: Taking Responsibility for Our Future

Chief Executive magazine named Washington state the 34th best state for business in 2011. In response to this ranking, as well as other economic factors, the state has made itself a goal to be the best state for business by 2020. Here are the steps it has taken to get there (other lower-ranking states may want to take a cue from these Washington business leaders).

July 13 2011 by Norm Levy


As CEO you take pride in your leadership prowess at managing critical issues. Your skills have favorably impacted the future of your business.  Now imagine applying your talent to resolve broader, tougher issues – those faced by your state.

Envision collaborating with other executives and government officials to resolve statewide issues. Would this process be healthy for your state’s business climate and the future of your company? Would it be challenging, rewarding and worth your time? There’s a group of executives in Washington State that think so.  This article outlines how their efforts have already begun making a difference.

Identify Passionate Stakeholders

Most people complain about issues instead of being part of the solution. David Giuliani, CEO of Clarisonic, decided it was time to change the “complain game.”  He promoted the idea of executives taking responsibility for ensuring a better future by collaboratively applying sound business principles to help manage public issues. Giuliani teamed up with Howard Behar, former president of Starbucks, who shared his passion for taking responsibility to improve outcomes. Together, they co-founded the Washington Business Alliance (www.WaBusinessAlliance.org) and began engaging other businesses in their quest. Less than a year old, the Alliance has a diverse membership of close to 100 businesses across the state that is working toward a better future.

Clarify Strategic Intention

They began with a vision for Washington where businesses thrive and residents enjoy a high quality of life. This led members to adopt a bold mission: To help resolve the state’s most critical issues.  Top priorities focused on education, health, transportation, environment and fiscal governance.  Values were established to guide all Alliance initiatives, to include understanding, collaboration, innovation, advocacy and achievement.

Conduct Due Diligence

Committees were formed to study critical issues by engaging with other members and subject-matter experts. Mutual objectives were established to understand the cause-and-effect of issues by gathering relevant facts, listening to diverse viewpoints, and evaluating best practices. Committee members routinely collaborate with government officials, university professors, other non-profit organizations, and business leaders to gather information. Before solutions are attempted, goals and criteria are established to guide evaluation of alternative strategies.

Set Goals and Metrics

The Business Alliance long-term goal is for Washington to be viewed as the best state to do business by 2020, as measured by specific metrics.  Some of these metrics will come from surveys conducted by www.ChiefExecutive.net.  Additional metrics are being used in establishing similarly ambitious goals for goals for education, health, transportation and environment.

Demonstrate Success

The Business Alliance has already evidenced success by developing an effective working relationship with government officials and other business organizations to guide their state’s policies and achieve better outcomes.  They have:

  • Worked with government officials to streamline regulations in the manufacturing industry
  • Evaluated and streamlined permitting procedures to fuel new business growth in the restaurant industry
  • Participated in a review of storm water run-off regulations to ensure a healthy Puget Sound and profitable marine industry
  • Initiated a project with the Insurance Commissioner to help design a Washington State Exchange as required under federal healthcare reform
  • Organized a business leaders conference with Governor Gregoire to gain a better understanding of issues in fiscal governance
  • Initiated discussions with state government officials on developing a strategic plan and establishing long-term goals.

Focus on Long-Term Success

Developing a long-term strategic plan for the state will include extensive research.  Reliable information from the business community and general public will be needed in order to formulate the top goals of the state.  With such goals in place, the government will be in a better position to select appropriate strategies and to report progress annually.

Take Personal Responsibility

The tougher the issues become in our economy, the easier the temptation to point fingers.  As a business leader, you know this approach doesn’t solve problems.  Instead, use collaboration as the way toward improved outcomes.  Ask yourself what you and a team of executives can do for your state, region or local community.  Then, begin taking responsibility.  Securing a better future begins with you.