The operating budget passed today by the Senate would add $5 million in assistance for local businesses whose trade has been decimated by international reactions to the coronavirus pandemic, at the request of state lawmakers representing the 19th and 24th legislative districts.
Though the funds may be requested by a number of disrupted businesses, the urgent need for help was highlighted by the example of Cosmo Specialty Fibers, a Cosmopolis textile producer that does more than 97 percent of its business with companies in Asia. With ports there closed for fear of spreading coronavirus, and with much of the countries’ workforces under quarantine, businesses there are unable to accept products or operate plants that would use the products.
“This is a local business that has thrived despite disruptive tariff and trade wars, pays its employees strong wages, and has robust potential to expand, but it’s been thrown for a loop,” said Sen. Dean Takko (D-Longview), who sponsored an amendment to increase the funding pot by $3 million. “They’ve done all the right things, but through no fault of their own they haven’t received a single order in more than seven weeks, and their vessels are stranded at sea loaded with products they cannot deliver.”
The assistance will come from the state’s strategic reserve account to promote economic development, which is funded by a third of all unclaimed lottery money. The account is allocated through the state’s 39 county associate development organizations.
“Local businesses like Cosmo are the lifeblood and future in rural communities in regions like ours,” said Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim), who cosponsored Takko’s amendment. “Cosmo is a very well-run company that makes environmentally friendly products and is considering a major expansion in the area of biofuel — but the stoppage of trade could mean the end of all of that.”
The operating budget had already provided $2 million for the account, much of which was already spoken for. Budget writers added $2 million in new funds on top of that, and the $3 million in Takko’s amendment means a total of $5 million in new funds.
Takko and Van De Wege and the four other area lawmakers in the Coastal Caucus plan to seek additional assistance, beyond the operating budget funds, and are in discussions with the governor’s office and the state Commerce Department to explore grants and low-interest loans.