Kris Johnson, president and CEO of the Association of Washington Business, speaks at the Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce’s luncheon Wednesday. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

Kris Johnson, president and CEO of the Association of Washington Business, speaks at the Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce’s luncheon Wednesday. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

Tariffs create uncertainty, says president of Association of Washington Business

PORT ANGELES — It’s a season of ups and downs for the economy, the head of a statewide business group said Wednesday.

Kris Johnson, president and CEO of the Association of Washington Business (AWB), said parts of the statewide economy remain steady even as the stock market is volatile and the U.S. is overdue for an economic downturn.

Speaking before 60 Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce luncheon participants, he noted the stock market dropped 180 points Wednesday morning.

It would close down 219 points.

Other “Washington warning signs,” as Johnson called them in his PowerPoint presentation, include trade tensions exacerbated by the North American Free Trade Agreement and tariffs, which he did not dwell on during his presentation.

The U.S. imposed 25 percent tariffs on Chinese goods worth $34 billion Friday.

China responded by imposing $34 billions worth of tariffs on U.S. goods.

President Donald Trump this week threatened $200 billion more in tariffs on China.

Johnson said in an interview after the meeting that in a state as trade-dependent as Washington tariffs, both imposed and threatened, make business owners uncertain and apprehensive.

The issue of tariffs goes to the issue of trade in every county of the state, he said.

“One of every four jobs is supported by trade,” he said.

“What employers need is certainty, and what tariffs do is provide a great degree of uncertainty in the supply stream,” Johnson said.

“What we are hearing from folks is a greater degree of uncertainty and apprehension.

“What we ultimately need at the end, what our position is about, is win-win-win agreements,” he said.

The state of Washington is the top exporter in 10 commodities, Johnson told the group.

“We have to pay attention to what happens to trade agreements and how they impact our economy through the state,” he said.

Hundred-point swings in the stock market are more a norm than an anomaly compared to past years, Johnson said.

“We’re seeing great volatility here,” Johnson noted.

Moreover, while it’s been nine years since the Great Recession —the economy “has done well for a long time” — the country is two years overdue for a market correction that usually occurs after seven years of strong growth, Johnson said.

At the same time, while rural areas such as Clallam and Jefferson counties suffer unemployment rates of 6.2 percent and 5.9 percent, respectively, in May, urban counties like King are nearly half that.

“There are parts of our state that are just stuck,” Johnson said.

Even in rural Washington, there are bright spots, such as the Northwest School of Wooden Boats in Port Hadlock, where the AWB kicked off a recent manufacturing tour.

“It’s a really cool school, a great place for people to learn about boatbuilding in the state of Washington,” Johnson said.

Against that backdrop, state revenue forecasts show an additional $400 million-$600 million in revenue over forecasts.

“We are still growing,” Johnson said.

Retail sales were up 4.2 percent in Clallam County in 2017 to $1.2 billion.

Johnson lamented to the group that lawmakers failed to pass SB 5935, the goal of which was “enhancing consumer access, affordability, and quality of broadband and advanced telecommunications services,” according to www.leg.wa.gov, in what Johnson called “a missed opportunity.”

In the future for business owners, and the workers they pay, Johnson said, is a mandatory increase in the minimum wage to $12 Jan. 1, 2019.

It increases to $13.50 in 2020.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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