Freshmen Lawmakers Hope to Boost Rural Economies with Free Tuition

In Olympia, rural lawmakers are reaching across party lines to boost education and employment.  Dan Frizzell has that story.

“Rural Washington, whether in farm country or timber country, we’re open for business.  We’ll train the workforce; we’re going to work with you to convince you to bring jobs to our area.”

That’s Representative Mike Chapman of Port Angeles. The Democratic freshman has both farms AND forests in his Olympia Peninsula district, and he’s seen the area lag behind while the I-5 corridor’s economy continues to climb.  He believes the key to bringing good jobs to rural areas is offering employers an educated workforce.  He and another first-year lawmaker, Chelan Republican Mike Steele, want the state to pick up the tab for a year of college or trade school in rural counties plagued by high unemployment and low wages.

“As we’re training the workforce, whether it’s in welding or computer science, or whatever someone’s passion is, as they’re being trained, we’re also hoping to attract those medium or small businesses that may be stuck in the I-5 corridor.  It’s becoming so gridlocked over there that they’ll begin to look to rural Washington and say, ‘you know what, they’re training the workforce that we need.” 

Chapman cited studies showing one or more years of post-high school education can be the key to landing today’s and tomorrow’s good jobs.  The fate of his bipartisan now rests with the House Higher Education Committee.  In Olympia, I’m Dan Frizzell.