The Washington Business Alliance has little interest in partisan politics even in this year's heightened political climate, but instead suggests that Washingtonians tap business expertise to help solve some of the state's most vexing social, economic, and environmental challenges.
That was the message from two of the alliance's leaders, former Starbucks Coffee International president Howard Behar and alliance executive director Roz Solomon, who spoke Wednesday to the Rotary Club of Vancouver. Behar, a co-founder of the alliance and vice chairman of its board, said the organization sees its role not as a critic of government, but a helper, in order to get the state moving economically.
Behar, an early Starbucks employee who guided its international expansion into 57 countries, said government leaders need to establish plans and set big goals. But the most important improvement in government, Behar said, would be for agencies to "focus on achievement" in their operations.
"We realized that's what was missing in state government," he said. Oregon is a leader in embracing an achievement-oriented approach to government services, Behar said, and other states have begun embracing the concept that is a foundation of business operations.
The alliance has structured its own work by creating committees in five key areas of statewide concern: education, the environment, fiscal governance, health, and transportation. Solomon, who has worked as a consultant, administrative law judge and college pro
fessor, said each committee is focused on establishing and achieving clear and successful outcomes. "We want to infuse good business practices in government processes," she said.
She used the alliance's approach to water-pollution regulations as one example. Alliance leaders found in meetings with businesses that meeting water-quality standards was among their most challenging issues. The organization's analysis concluded that clean-water rules established four decades ago were outdated, focusing on direct pipeline sources when much of today's water pollution comes from indirect sources.
State Department of Ecology officials agreed but said they had little flexibility in modifying regulations to be more fair and more effective, according to Solomon. The business group advocated for a more nimble and innovative approach to water-quality regulations, not for reducing the standards, Solomon said. And last week, the department's director said he was interested in trying to find a way to embrace that approach, she said.
The alliance doesn't see itself competing with other statewide business organizations, the two leaders said, and does not function as an advocate for specific concerns of its members. Rather, it wants to help the state meet some specific goals by improving government processes.
Alliance leaders will meet with the two major candidates for governor this month, not to ask for their positions on issues but to probe their specific leadership and management skills, Behar said.
Behar said he has little personal interest in the workings of Washington, D.C., but thinks the alliance can make a difference at the state level. His biggest fear, he said, is that both liberals and conservatives have told him that the alliance's approach won't work in these polarized times.
"There's this anger, this lack of hope," he said, For himself, Behar said he is motivated to achieve success for his own six grandchildren and others in generations to come.