By Brad Smith
Senior Vice President and General Counsel
Today I had the opportunity to speak at the annual regional leadership conference sponsored by the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce. Although the name might suggest that this is just about business issues, in fact the conference attendance extended far beyond the leadership of the business community. It included leaders from organized labor, the environmental community, social service organizations, and many other stakeholder groups.
As I had a chance to meet and chat with various conference attendees, I was struck not by our differences, but by what we all have in common. While different individuals sometimes come from different political stripes and have different priorities, everyone shared a genuine desire to make our state the best possible place in which to live, work, and raise a family. And, regardless of the election’s outcomes, it is more important than ever that we continue to come together to think and talk in the broadest possible terms about what is in the best interest of the state.
Of course we’ll never agree on everything when it comes to a vision for what our state should be. But if we can start by focusing on long-term goals and discuss each other’s perspectives, there is a real opportunity to develop a consensus vision that is more powerful than anything that any one constituency can advance by itself.
Today at the conference, I shared what I believe that vision should be: a commitment both to protect the high quality of life enjoyed by our citizens and to provide employers with the competitive edge necessary to create new jobs and succeed in a global economy. This dual vision has been the focus of our public engagements here at Microsoft for some time, and we are working to promote a similar focus within organizations in which we are involved.
Specifically, our hope is that state leaders, both elected officials and leaders from every constituency, can embrace a balanced strategy with two primary objectives: (a) to maintain and strengthen Washington’s position in the top 10 states in terms of the quality of life our citizens enjoy; and (b) to move Washington out of the top 10 states in terms of the total operating costs for businesses.
These two objectives are not mutually exclusive. In fact, in the long run, they are inextricably linked. More importantly, both of these goals are attainable and they are equally important to our future success.
The health of our communities depends on many factors – great education, from early learning programs through the most advanced degrees; a safe and efficient transportation and mass transit system; protection of our natural environment; a vibrant arts and cultural scene; and a social safety net for our more vulnerable neighbors.
We may never have sufficient public funds to do everything we would like to do in all of these areas. So, especially today, we need a candid conversation about prioritizing the allocation of public resources and ensuring that we are getting the best possible return in new job opportunities and enhanced quality of life. And we should focus on how the business community and others can work with the non-profit community in a spirit of broad public service to fill in some of the important gaps. Ultimately, we all should aspire to rise above our differences and work together for the goal we all share: making the State of Washington the best place we can to live, work, and raise a family.