The Ritzville Adams County Journal - Eastern Adams County's Only Independent Voice Since 1887

Congressman Newhouse visits with Ritzville community leaders, business owners

 

April 12, 2018

NEWHOUSE. Congressman Dan Newhouse stopped in the City of Ritzville on April 3 to speak to local business owners about issues and concerns. During the visit, Newhouse received a tour of the historical buildings in the city. Ritzville Public Development Authority Member Erika Hennings (right) shows Newhouse (center) a view of the old dance hall German American Bank Building above Columbia Bank. -Journal photo by Al Stover

Trade issues, water and tax reform were the primary topics during a community leaders meeting with Congressman Dan Newhouse on April 3 in Ritzville. The meeting was followed by a tour of downtown Ritzville, where Newhouse met one-on-one with business owners to discuss the challenges they currently face.

At the meeting, Ritzville Public Authority (RPA) Member Erika Hennings addressed Newhouse about the current trade issues. As an agricultural community, Ritzville would be greatly affected by any trade war where exports are restricted.

Newhouse stated he is not surprised China is taking the actions they are in the current trade discussions. He added food is always where countries go to retaliate.

In Washington, agricultural exports are prevalent, and Newhouse explained that as a farmer himself, he understands the negative impact China’s decision may have on farmers in the region.

Newhouse said he believes there are indications that China is still willing to negotiate, but there are still a lot of concerns for the agriculture industry. He stated trade war is not good for anyone, and those representatives involved in the decision need to understand the implications of their decisions and the impact a trade war would have, as farmers would be the collateral damage.

In terms of global trade, Newhouse said each country must “play by the rules” and it is a delicate balance to uphold. He added he is hopeful that in the long run, the current issue will resolve and result in a better trade market for the United States.

Newhouse said he applauds President Donald Trump for taking on the issue, as not all trade has been fair or reciprocal in the past. He added the U.S. has always been fairly open with trade.

Overall, Newhouse said he does have concerns about trade, especially in relation to the stop of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), The TPP took years to implement and was good for all 11 countries involved in the treaty.

Since the president took office, Newhouse said there has been a new push for bi-lateral trade agreements, but so far have not entered into bi-lateral trade discussions.

Newhouse said the State of Washington understands the impact of the foreign trade markets more than most states. The reliance on exports in the state show just how important all aspects of trade truly are, he added.

A continuing concern in the region is the lack of access to water and the declining water levels in the aquifers. Currently, both Lind and Ritzville are struggling with issues surrounding the wells, and well reliability and water levels are crucial to the longevity of both communities.

Newhouse said he is working for improvement of the Columbia Basin funding for infrastructure and he is optimistic the project will receive funding in the future. This year, the project had a strong representation from its delegates and good presentation, but it was made too late to be included in the president’s budget.

The House of Representatives has a moratorium on earmarks, but Newhouse said the project is being considered in the next budget. Washington has stepped up to support, and now the federal government does too, Newhouse stated.

He added the President is looking for infrastructure projects to support, and the Columbia Basin project fits the criteria. Newhouse said he is optimistic about the future funding of the project, but the delegation will need to continue to educate on the needs of the region.

Newhouse stated there is a need for irrigated agriculture, and the region needs more water capacity to be able to produce food and keep up with demand.

The recent tax reform was one point Newhouse wanted to discuss during his trip to the Ritzville community. He stated he was interested to see if business owners were benefiting from the reform, or if they felt any of the affects yet.

Columbia Bank Manager Chad Hoeft said the company has made significant wage improvements following the tax reform law. Effective Feb. 1, every employee of the company received a raise, and the entry-level teller positions were raised to $15 per hour.

Hoeft stated the company stepped up and utilized the return to benefit their employees.

Newhouse said most small and medium-sized companies have been able to make similar changes, and the lower tax rate has allowed companies with more money to invest in their business.

Adams County Commissioner John Marshall said county employees have also seen a change, and majority of employees are seeing the return.

Ritzville Downtown Development Association (RDDA) President and Flying Arts Ranch Owner John Rankin said small, local businesses have not felt the effect yet. The Affordable Care Act had more impact locally, he added.

Adams County Economic Development Director Stephen McFadden stated businesses are seeing returns, and interest in development has improved.

There are currently food processers developing in the Othello, and he believes the tax reform was a large part of why they decided to expand.

Newhouse asked about development in the county, and McFadden explained the Ritzville area ranked second in the nation for cost effectiveness of building a distribution center in the area.

There is a need for a business park in the area to increase growth, but with only one port district in the county, it limits the development area for distribution, McFadden explained.

Marshall stated Adams County is ideal for development, with low property costs and flat ground, but the area is hampered by the lack of rural broadband.

McFadden added housing in rural areas is also an issue. There needs to be more houses available to attract businesses and bring in a skilled work force, which would require middle and upper income housing.

Newhouse asked if there was resistance to growth, and business owners stated growth is necessary to survival.

There have been numerous businesses who have shut their doors in the past 10 years, and an increased population is needed for the current companies to continue.

Marshall stated people enjoy the small town environment and there is a good school system here, but to continue, the city needs replacement growth and new jobs.

He said it is believed 3,000 would be an adequate population for Ritzville in order to support local industry and business.

Adams County Development Council (ACDC) Director Julie Flyckt stated there is a lot of movement in the small towns to unite and create opportunities in order to attract more people and entrepreneurs to the rural communities.

Business owners and entrepreneurs like the flexibility of a rural environment, but broadband Internet is essential to their creation and survival. Flyckt added she believes the increased growth in surrounding cities will also impact Ritzville in the future; it is just a matter of time.

In terms of development, McFadden added Lind will be the host of the largest solar farm in the State of Washington.

Lind was identified as the best location in Washington for the location of a solar farm, and Avista Utilities sent out a request for proposals and Strata Solar received the contract for the project, McFadden explained.

McFadden said while there is potential for additional solar or wind farms in the future, incremental growth is what is important to the rural communities.

 

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