The President’s Pen is a weekly blog written by Jonathan Smith, New Vision’s President and CEO about local economic development projects and initiatives. It also covers economic trends, workforce issues, business climate policies, and manufacturing news.
At New Vision's Business and Industry Roundtable meeting we had three agency managers speak to our group about their ongoing responsibilities to uphold environmental, safety and planning laws. It was good to learn what the hot regulatory issues are in Central Washington as well as ways businesses can get help from state and local government agencies.
Tom Tebb, regional director with the Department of Ecology, covers a lot of ground. He is in charge of a region that stretches from the Canadian border through Yakima County. Ecology oversees 11 programs – everything from water quality to hazardous waste to air emissions. Water gets a lot of attention as Ecology is heavily involved in basin water planning efforts. Air quality has also gotten tremendous attention recently as a result of the forest fires. Tebb suggested businesses can get help with permitting or regulatory issues through the Office of Regulatory Assistance (ORA). Housed in the Governor's office, ORA helps visitors identify permits needed for a wide variety of projects. The office also acts as an ombudsman guiding applicants through permits and soliciting ideas for regulatory improvement. Towards this end, ORA has Regulatory Assistance staffers that are located throughout Washington.
Vern Redifer is Yakima County's Director of Public Services. He is in charge of planning and permitting functions for the County. Vern indicated he has laid of half of his building plan staff because development activity is way off. Keeping appropriate staffing levels is hard because the County lags development. The planning department is doing a comprehensive update of development codes (ex zoning, subdivision) in an effort to simplify and clarify existing regulations. In addition the County has moved lots of its permit information online. These applications and accompanying helpful hints are all designed to help customers whether they building a new factory or adding a carport to a house. Vern mentioned that the County also offers early assistance meetings with permit applicants so people with development projects understand how to get and stay on track during their projects (call 509-574-2300 for appointment).
Monte Paradis spoke about Labor and Industries’ (L&I) operations in Central Washington. He Is the regional director for L&I in Central Washington and his region runs from North Central Washington through Yakima County and all the way past Walla Walla. Labor and Industries has six divisions that manage worker compensation claims, perform electrical inspections, provide consultations to business, enforce contractor laws, and investigate fraud. The electrical division is the largest operation in our area - it issues permits and does inspections. Monte has also had to lay off a lot of electrical inspectors due to the recession and related drop in development activity. Paradis said fraud is an ongoing problem. His people spend a lot of time tracking down unlicensed contractors and workers filing false injury claims. Monte said that businesses can call their consultation division if they would like help identifying and eliminating unsafe situations and practices at their facilities. Labor and Industries has also established a small business center to help business owners or managers.
It was beneficial to learn more about these key agencies and how they impact business in Yakima County. Each manager expressed a willingness to solve problems and work towards solutions. They also suggested they have people or processes in place to help businesses or individuals that need assistance with specific projects or issues. No doubt about it – these managers and their regulatory agencies have a big impact in Yakima County. Understanding the issues they face and some of the regulatory changes in the pipeline are an important part of guiding and helping businesses in Central Washington.
If you need help getting a permit or resolving a regulatory issue feel free to click on appropriate links in this article or contact our office at email@example.com or 509-575-1140.