Colleen McAleer, Clallam County Economic Development Council executive director, speaks at a Port Angeles Business Association breakfast event at Joshua’s Restaurant. McAleer said that the way the state collects and uses data hurts rural communities. (Peter Segall/Peninsula Daily News)

Colleen McAleer, Clallam County Economic Development Council executive director, speaks at a Port Angeles Business Association breakfast event at Joshua’s Restaurant. McAleer said that the way the state collects and uses data hurts rural communities. (Peter Segall/Peninsula Daily News)

Reform urged for rural counties

EDC director says state data skewed to urban areas

PORT ANGELES — Rural communities are disadvantaged by state policies that are geared toward more populated regions of the state, according to the executive director of the Clallam County Economic Development Council.

Colleen McAleer told attendees of the Port Angeles Business Association weekly breakfast earlier this week that some state lawmakers are working on bills that could bring some relief.

The way the state collects data and designs its policies in relation to that information, “limits our ability to be successful,” McAleer said.

“State system is not set up to examine small communities,” McAleer said of the various metrics the state uses to measure things like employment demand and wages in such counties as Clallam and Jefferson.

“Misinterpreted employment data leads to misallocation of funding for job programs,” McAleer said.

McAleer identified several areas where state policies were hurting rural communities, including data collection, training and procurement.

Many state job training programs have requirements for a certain number of students that many rural communities can’t meet, McAleer said, and wage data used by the state is based on more populace counties like King County where wages are higher.

Furthermore, McAleer said, employment data for small businesses isn’t always made public, and in counties where most of the businesses are small, that can make it difficult for local authorities to get an actual picture of employment in those areas.

One of McAleer’s proposals for addressing her concerns is better access to employment data. The state uses the North American Industry Classification System when collecting wage and employment data, McAleer said, but some of that information — particularly for small businesses — isn’t available to the public.

Part of the issue with data sharing is privacy restrictions put in place at the federal level, according to Jim Vleming, a regional economist with the Washington Employment Security Department.

“Sharing data has been one of my concerns,” Vleming told Peninsula Daily News in an interview. “But our hands are kind of tied in that regard. Funding for that data is from (the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) and they have confidentiality rules.”

Because BLS provides the funding for the data collection, Vleming said the agency has to abide by the agency’s guidelines.

McAleer said she’s tried working with state agencies to address some of her concerns but has been met with resistance, so she’s sought out the help of state lawmakers to make legal changes.

“I think the legislative route is probably the most direct,” McAleer told PDN in an interview. “The agencies of the state have been unwilling to make modifications when I’ve communicated with them over the years.”

McAleer said she’s been working with state Sen. Lisa Wellman, a Democrat from Mercer Island and the chair of the Early Learning and K-12 Committee, to expand funding opportunities under the state’s skill center program.

The state currently has 14 skill centers throughout the state, according to the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, which serve as regional secondary schools that teach high school students from multiple school districts.

“Because of specific physical distances sometimes the number of students might disqualify (certain areas) from funding,” Wellman told PDN.

In June, Wellman was invited to Sequim to discuss the local school district’s career and technical education program, which due to its size, doesn’t qualify for funding under the state’s skill center program.

Wellman said she was currently in discussions to create one-time funding opportunities for districts to build or upgrade the facilities necessary for hands-on technical training.

McAleer also suggested extending current sales and use taxes that provide funding for rural communities, She said that Legislative District 24, Position 1Rep. Mike Chapman, a Port Angeles Democrat, is chair of the Rural Development, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, and is working on a bill that would do that.

“I do believe that anytime you can reform government to make it more usable for the end user it’s a good thing,” Chapman told PDN.

“There are a couple of departments at the state that are not sharing information back and forth, (McAleer) is having a hard time she’s getting the data that we need.”

Rep. Steve Tharinger, a Port Townsend Democrat who serves representative for District 24, Position 2, agreed there were longstanding issues about data but noted the district received about $1.30 from the state for every $1 in taxes paid.

“Sometimes if we don’t have the right data, we end up having to pay the Seattle wage, and we’re trying to work through that,” Tharinger said.

“There may be other data pieces that aren’t as regionally specific for the peninsula as they could be, but we do well as a region in getting state funding.”

Both Chapman and Tharinger are running for reelection in November.

Bureaucratic reforms have found support from lawmakers, McAleer told PDN, but some of the other issues she said had more political obstacles.

The issue of prevailing wages was, “an uphill battle,” McAleer said.

Wages are often based on more populated areas of the state which have higher numbers of unionized workers. McAleer suggested posting collective bargaining agreements on the Department of Labor and Industries website and making it easier for nonunion workers to receive government contracts.

Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at [email protected]

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