Shhhh…don’t pass this on. But after a year and a half doing business in Washington out of our Bellingham facility, I have to say I made a good choice to locate here, after years of business in California.
Not to say there aren’t the usual frustrations with various government agencies and taxes, but believe me, it can be — and is — a lot worse elsewhere.
One of my frustrations about doing business in the United States in general, and in California specifically, has been the lack of government support. Any support seems to be mostly non-existent or reserved for the big boys. Blue Future Filters sells filters and services worldwide, and although I have participated in trade missions that were sponsored by the federal government and the California state government, one of the insights I’ve gained through these travels is that services provided by our government to small businesses are minimal compared with other modern industrialized countries.
I went to a conference in Banff, Alberta, last year and found that the Canadian government was eagerly working on ways to promote Canadian business exports.
But the U.S. government and the State of California have been very meager in recent years, at least from where I have been sitting.
I used to cringe when driving to work and hearing a supervisor from the County of San Francisco talking about punitive taxes of all the corporations and small businesses in San Francisco.
So you can imagine my surprise and delight when we got hooked up with CTED, the Washington State Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development. I heard about them from Dodd Snodgrass, who works for the Port of Bellingham.
We contacted them, and immediately they were falling all over each other to assist us in accessing Chinese and Mexican markets. They have followed through with some very promising leads, contacts, and services.
I am sure their services are mostly there to aid the behemoth aircraft and software industries and the big internationals make potential connections. But it is gratifying to see a government agency actually help small businesses, which are also employers and taxpayers, compete on the world stage.
And I feel labor issues are friendlier here as well. Not only does there appear to be a willing, talented and affordable work force here, but the workers-comp issue seems to be a little more sane.
In California, I had one employee working in our warehouse there. He performed normal office tasks, some very light assembly work, and occasional sales calls, and yet the workers comp for him was almost $900 per month!
While I’m on the topic of California bashing, I also have to go out of my way to praise Washington roads. I was in California last week driving in the North Bay, one of the most affluent areas in the world.
Later, I drove down through the Central Valley to check out a project we had east of Fresno at a national park. I have traveled to many parts of the world, and the roads I drove on in California, even in affluent areas, were about the quality of roads in Peru.
What a disgrace.
The interstates are not too bad, but the local roads almost everywhere are pot-holed, patched, tire-gouging bone-rattlers. By comparison, the roads I am familiar with in Whatcom County are pretty high quality, pretty much everywhere.
I am also impressed with Washington environmental policies. Whatcom County can stand right up with the most environmentally conscious areas of the country from what I see.
There is more consciousness among the citizenry about waste and recycling than I ever saw in Sonoma County, Calif.—or Berkeley for that matter.
And finally — ahhh, the high-tech telecom services.
Our office in Bellingham has high-speed DSL with Internet phones. DSL seems to be widely available in Washington, and my GSM cell phone works just about everywhere.
By comparison, our first office in California was in Santa Rosa in a commercial area. Santa Rosa, which is known, apparently, as a center for the telecom industry — and all we had was a choice of dial-up or satellite.
This is the same choice I have at my home in rural Custer!
When it comes to high-tech services, Bellingham has Santa Rosa beat hands down.
All of these factors, along with access to almost anything we need for our business in terms of services, combine to make my Washington business experience a big improvement.
But don’t tell your friends in far- off places, though. Try to keep this one under your hat.
Humphrey Blackburn is the president and CEO of Blue Future Filters in Bellingham.