Politics & Government

New name, mission for office

The state’s newest agency is actually an old one with a new mission.

The Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development undergoes a metamorphosis into the Department of Commerce officially on Sunday morning.

The law changing the name also calls for a revamping of the agency, and new director Rogers Weed says he wants to shift the agency’s focus to jobs promotion, a goal Gov. Chris Gregoire shares.

“The mission is really to grow and improve the jobs in Washington state,” Weed explained this week. “That was a very clear direction from the governor. It satisfies all my important criteria for a mission: It’s very short, it’s memorable … it’s inspiring.’’

“As a guy coming in from business, there was no connection for business to the name ‘Community, Trade and Economic Development … It’s a long name. It almost sounds very technical and very bureaucratic rather than succinct and more powerful. I actually think the name change is very important,’’ Weed added

Weed took over the 350-employee agency in March, having worked at Microsoft.

Visitors to the agency should notice few changes at first. E-mail addresses are changing and so has the agency’s website, but most agency staffers are using up their old business cards and letterheads before ordering new ones — all part of the recession-driven ethos of doing government on the cheap.

The agency estimates its cost to put up new signs is $250, using the Department of General Administration’s sign shop.

A small party marked the transformation Thursday morning, and Gov. Chris Gregoire gave remarks in the parking lot near the agency’s two main buildings along Columbia Street in Olympia.

Don Brunell, president of the Association of Washington Business, likes what he sees so far of Weed’s effort to streamline the agency, which was formed in 1994 by the joining of a community development agency with a trade and economic development agency.

The association, which acts as the statewide chamber of commerce for large and small enterprises, helped set up meetings between Weed and business groups around the state.

The meetings were part of Weed’s outreach effort that included 90 focus group meetings in a six-week period. Weed says he wants the agency to become a place where business can turn for assistance and know that business concerns with regulations or costs are heard and understood, which Brunell welcomes.

“I’m hopeful we’ll have a little more emphasis on the policy issues that are important to employers,’’ Brunell said. “On some of those issues, the administration may have to take on some of their traditional allies, like labor. They’ve got to do something about the costs (of doing business in Washington). Basically you are talking about the cost of unemployment insurance, of regulations and workers comp. ... We are at a disadvantage; they have to do something about that.’’

Brunell also hopes the governor includes Weed “in some of the tough decisions. He’s in charge of the aerospace project which is really critical in our state.’’

Weed’s focus so far has been on business, and building what he describes as a new “brand” identify for the agency and its myriad, 250 programs. But labor also has a stake, and Weed has only had superficial talks so far with leaders at the Washington State Labor Council.

More substantial talks with labor are expected in the coming weeks as Weed puts together a set of recommendations on overhauling Commerce. The recommendations for the Legislature and governor are due Nov. 1, according to the terms of Engrossed House Bill 2242, which created the new Commerce agency.

Rick Bender, president of the Washington State Labor Council, said Wednesday he has an open mind about the changes. The agency has functions that sprawl from housing to local government, public works, international trade and economic development.

“I think overall we have no problem with CTED being changed to the Department of Commerce. CTED in the past has been kind of a catchall for a variety of programs. If they were to look at it and see what needs to be in the Department of Commerce and what needs to be transferred into another agency, I think that’s good,’’ Bender said.

But Bender said labor wants to be certain that workforce training, which is overseen by its own board, does not get merged into an agency with many sub-cabinet functions that leave training without a priority.

“We all know we have to talk about being competitive. We also understand that to be competitive we need a highly skilled, highly trained workforce,’’ Bender said.

Bender also said he doesn’t yet know Weed yet, and Weed freely admits he doesn’t know labor and hasn’t had contact with organized labor in the past. “He’s wanting to learn and that’s great. It’s a partnership in progress right now as we learn about each other and where he’s coming from,’’ Bender said.

In the meantime, Commerce launched a new Web address at www.commerce.wa.gov and changed e-mail addresses for workers.

The agency, which has oversight on some 250 programs, has also slimmed down — to about 347 full-time positions, part of cuts that are hitting every state agency to bridge the state’s budget gap.