On Thursday, the Seattle Metro Chamber and the Kent Chamber of Commerce co-presented a roundtable discussion for local business owners with Congressman Adam Smith at Alki Bakery's corporate park space in Kent. The roundtable, which was also attended by community leaders including Port of Seattle Commission President Courtney Gregoire and Kent Mayor Dana Ralph, focused on immigration policy and how it affects the business community.
Andrea Keikkala, CEO of the Kent Chamber of Commerce, introduced Congressman Smith, who has represented Washington's Ninth Congressional District for 11 terms. Smith, an alum of the University of Washington School of Law, got his start in political office in Washington's State Senate. He was 25 years old when he took office in 1991, becoming the youngest state senator in the country. Five years later, he was elected to Congress.
Smith talked about a predominant divisiveness in the current political landscape. Right now, “politics is more about division than working together,” Smith lamented, talking about his radically different approach – and emphasizing the work he does to bring people together to commune on ideas and political strategies.
One key to success, Smith said, is ensuring you’re working with people who are very different than you are and representing their voices. Smith, who is a Democrat, regularly works with members of the Republican party including Congressman Dave Reichert; the two share representation of the city of Kent.
“I want equality of opportunity for everyone in (my) district,” Smith said.
Smith discussed the increasingly competitive world of globalization and technology, and how important it is to make sure that as technology pushes forward, blue-collar workers do not fall behind.
He noted a growing financial disparity between company executives and their ground-level employees. “(Workers on the ground level) are working just as hard as my father (who worked as a ramp serviceman at Sea-Tac Airport and was active in the local Machinists’ Union) did, and they’re falling farther and farther behind,” Smith said.
He added, “The people who are economically insecure are increasingly insecure.”
A competitive global economy also brings workforce competition for residents; Smith reiterated over our roundtable discussion the need to rethink and redesign the K-12 education system to focus on workforce applicability instead of blind paths into colleges. He talked about readjusting the emphasis on college as the only answer for students, and instead devoting weight to internships, apprenticeships and vocational training.
The group discussed immigration with Smith and the impact of policies on businesses and morale. Smith noted that modern U.S. immigration is a bitterly divisive topic, and that despite anti-immigration leadership in top political offices, immigration should be celebrated. “People all over the world want to come here,” Smith said. “That has been a great strength of our country.”
Kent and Seattle Metro Chamber members asked Smith about the work he is doing to advance comprehensive immigration reform, which the Seattle Metro Chamber has long supported.
Smith noted some substantive actions he is taking to improve immigration policies and community feelings about immigration:
- Reducing the number of detentions and deportations; reforming federal detention centers
- Figuring out the best way to work with undocumented immigrants to find their paths to citizenship
- Trying to protect earlier legislative promises that may be broken like DACA dreamer revocation and the promises of future citizenship made to those who joined the military
- Reshaping the narrative around immigration; Smith criticized the type of “broad talk” the presidential administration engages in that only serves to create fear and violence
- Humanization instead of demonization of immigrants
An attendee asked Smith what gives him hope about our shared future.
Smith heralded the expansion of vocational apprenticeships that help move skilled workers into jobs, the possibility of remodeling the K-12 educational system’s attention to better reflect workforce preparedness, the large and increasing number of racial- and gender-diverse representatives taking elected office and the multitude of “smart, talented, driven and ambitious” people in his own district.
How can others gain hope in the positive drive of our region and country?
“Turn off your television and talk to your neighbors,” Smith said.
This was part of a series of roundtables with local elected officials that the Seattle Metro Chamber hosts with our partners around the region. To learn more, please contact Jacques Imperial, the Chamber’s outreach manager.