Citizens of the Puget Sound region have much to celebrate, and yet there is still much to learn from others who have successfully dealt...

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Citizens of the Puget Sound region have much to celebrate, and yet there is still much to learn from others who have successfully dealt with the major competitive issues facing regional economies today.

The recent legislative session was good for our region and for Washington as a whole. Two bills in particular bode well for our future: the $8.5 billion transportation-funding package and the $350 million Life Sciences Discovery Fund. We applaud the courageous lawmakers who supported these critical measures and know that Gov. Christine Gregoire worked hard for both.

Coinciding with a flurry of activity around these two bills, 100 local business and civic leaders recently were in San Diego studying its success in transportation and life sciences — the focus of the 2005 intercity study mission organized by the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, the Technology Alliance and the office of Mayor Greg Nickels. With cellphones and PDAs, we kept abreast of the action at home while learning valuable lessons from our neighbor to the south.

Not surprisingly, transportation is a top policy issue for the congested San Diego area. The region’s citizens recently overwhelmingly approved Proposition A, a $14 billion regional transportation plan which includes significant investment in regional highways, local roads and light-rail transit to reduce traffic congestion, accommodate job growth and increase freight mobility.

David K.Y. Tang

Even with approval in Olympia of transportation legislation, our region will need to devise a similar package if we are to address safety challenges like the Alaskan Way Viaduct and Highway 520 floating bridge and provide traffic relief to highways such as Interstate 405 and Highway 167.

The San Diego measure passed because local leaders and supporters communicated effectively with voters, put forward a plan that actually alleviates congestion, and resisted the urge to dilute the plan to satisfy everyone. A parallel strategy is needed for our region.

San Diego also has enjoyed enviable success in building an internationally recognized life-sciences cluster. Although founded just 40 years ago, the University of California at San Diego consistently ranks among the top research universities nationally, and the city is home to many research institutes, pharmaceutical facilities and life-sciences companies. Through innovative technology transfer programs, a risk-friendly entrepreneurial culture, and collaborative partnerships between research institutes and companies that in turn generate more opportunities, San Diego has leveraged its strengths to grow and sustain a life-sciences sector that ranks among the top three nationally.

With funding from the recently approved $3 billion California stem-cell initiative, San Diego will continue to be an epicenter of life-sciences research and innovation on the West Coast.

Interestingly, on a per-capita basis, Washington’s $350 million Life Sciences Discovery Fund is comparable in size to California’s stem-cell initiative. The fund will jump-start a life-saving industry that has the potential to create thousands of high-paying jobs. We know that much more needs to be done to move Greater Seattle from the second tier to the top tier nationally in life sciences, but this bill makes a statement that we are serious about growing this sector and will invest to make it happen.

Our recent experiences in San Diego and Olympia remind us that staying economically competitive is an ongoing process that requires planning, collaboration and risk-taking. The challenges and opportunities before us are clear. We can’t dilute our investment dollars by trying to be all things to all people — we need to make tough choices and prioritize.

The statewide transportation funding package and the Life Sciences Discovery Fund represent a shift in thinking. By building on the investments we’ve just made, we will continue on our economic growth curve and truly make this region, and our entire state, a prosperous and globally competitive center of innovation.

David K.Y. Tang is chairman of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce and a partner at Preston Gates & Ellis. Steve Davis is past chairman of the Technology Alliance and president and CEO of Corbis.