We need to address our lack of focus and find solutions to market our wine industry

One issue the Legislature continues to try and tackle is how to bridge the gap in our state’s rural-urban divide. Tourism is an area that lacks much-needed attention and is an issue at the top of my legislative priority list. Tourism needs to be molded into the framework of our work to ensure the rural areas of our state thrive and prosper just as much as their urban counterparts.

Wine is the fastest growing industry in Washington state, providing jobs, revenue and the benefits of tourism to our region.

A study conducted in partnership with the Washington State Wine Commission and Stonebridge Research shows that Washington wine contributes $8.6 billion annually to the state economy and supports nearly 30,000 jobs. The report also estimates there are 2.4 million annual visitors to Washington state wineries, resulting in approximately $1 billion in wine-related tourism.

At the local level, Benton and Yakima counties have more than 42,000 acres of wine grapes and produce 51 percent of the wine in Washington. Our two counties contribute over $1.45 billion in direct and indirect economic impact from the wine industry and support over 8,000 jobs.

The Columbia Valley has one of the fastest growing wine industries in the world, but unfortunately small businesses and wineries are suffocating under bureaucracy. At the very least, Washington should encourage the growth of this thriving industry.

The question remains if our wine industry is booming, is a major economic contributor to our state, and fosters small business growth, why aren’t we doing more to create a tourism industry to rightfully promote one of our state’s greatest commodities?

Alongside my fellow Republican lawmakers, we’ve been working to enhance our state’s tourism marketing efforts and outreach. The State Tourism Commission was created in 2007 to direct the state tourism program administered through the Department of Commerce. The Commission was comprised of public and private industry representatives and was tasked with promoting and expanding the state tourism industry. The Legislature terminated this commission at the end of the 2009-11 biennium.

My colleague, Rep. Cary Condotta of Wenatchee, has introduced legislation for the past two sessions to create the Washington Tourism Marketing Authority to manage the financial resources for the development of a statewide tourism-marketing plan. The companion bill unanimously passed the Senate. It has been referred to the House Committee on Community Development, Housing and Tribal Affairs.

Through partnerships with a statewide tourism-marketing program, we could really put our state wineries on the national and global stage by enhancing competition, and expand our economic vitality.

As your advocate here in Olympia, I will continue to be the “loud voice in the room” on this important movement to improve tourism to our great state.  We will continue to work toward and maintain balance in our policies that benefit not only our urban areas, but also our rural ones. It is an honor to represent you, and the citizens of the 16th District.

State Representative Bill Jenkin, 16th Legislative District
470 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7836 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000