Newsletter — April 18, 2024

Happy Earth Day

from the Washington Retail Association

As stewards of both commerce and the environment, WR recognizes the vital role retailers play in promoting eco-conscious initiatives. From reducing packaging waste to finding new ways to reduce their carbon footprint in shipping and logistics, WR celebrates those retailers embracing sustainability as a cornerstone of their operations. Together, let's pave the way for a greener, more sustainable future for generations to come.








Washington joins 15 states with auto-enrollment retirement program initiative

Washington state is gearing up to implement a new retirement program, joining 15 other states with similar initiatives. The recently passed ESSB 6069 establishes "Washington Saves," an automatic enrollment individual retirement savings program. Employees of covered employers will have the opportunity to contribute to an IRA through automatic payroll deductions, with enrollment being automatic but opt-out options available. Employers will have to register with Washington Saves and either participate or enroll employees in a retirement plan through associations.

The program aims to improve retirement security, building on the state's existing small business retirement marketplace. A study by Pew Charitable Trusts recommended such automated savings programs, estimating significant participation and asset accumulation over time. The bill appropriates funds for implementation, with expectations of recouping costs in the long run.

Despite initial confusion with other state programs, the auto-enrollment retirement plan offers individuals the opportunity to save for their future independently. With details left to a governing board, the program is set to launch by July 1, 2027, potentially phasing in by employer size.

Learn more:

Retail sales surge amidst early Easter and tax refunds

In March, retail sales surged according to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau, buoyed by an early Easter, increased tax refunds, and a surge in job opportunities. National Retail Federation Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz noted that despite inflationary pressures, consumer spending remained robust. However, a concerning trend emerged as more consumer spending shifted towards services due to rising service prices, leaving less disposable income for retail purchases.

The Census Bureau reported a 0.7% increase in overall retail sales from January, with a notable 4% year-over-year rise. Core retail sales, excluding certain sectors like automobile dealers and restaurants, saw a substantial 1.1% uptick from February and a 3.2% increase compared to the previous year. The CNBC/NRF Retail Monitor corroborated this growth trend, indicating a steady rise in March sales.

These numbers paint a picture of resilience in consumer spending despite economic challenges, offering a glimmer of hope for retailers amidst uncertain times.

WR addresses Bellevue Chamber Executive Business Roundtable

Mark Johnson, WR Senior VP for Policy and Government Affairs, delivered a presentation at the Bellevue Chamber Executive Business Roundtable on “The State of Retail – and the 2024 Legislative Session”.

The event, held at the Bellevue Club, drew a significant turnout of top Bellevue business executives and owners.

Johnson provided insights into industry trends accelerated by the pandemic, alongside the latest statistics on sales, employment, and tax revenue generation.

The second part of his presentation focused on the 2024 Legislative Session, covering anticipated top issues, surprises, outcomes, and projections for 2025. Notably, artificial intelligence emerged as a major topic for discussion, raising questions about regulation and usage. Additionally, Johnson highlighted a surprising legislative push targeting the gift card business, which WR and its coalition successfully countered. However, similar challenges are anticipated in future sessions.

WR values these opportunities to engage with decision-makers in local communities, and the Bellevue Chamber, led by President/CEO Joe Fain and VP of Government Affairs Jodie Alberts, continues to excel in providing this essential service to its membership.

For more information about the Bellevue Chamber, visit their website

Seattle Council proposes measures to revitalize police recruitment efforts

Seattle's City Council initiated a legislative move to enhance police recruitment in response to dwindling officer numbers. Spearheaded by Council President Sara Nelson, the bill aims to streamline the application process and expedite hiring.

With concerns over a stagnant conversion rate of applicants to hires, the proposal seeks to bridge the gap by reducing the turnaround time, currently spanning three to four months. Key provisions include transferring recruitment roles to the Seattle Police Department and exploring alternative entry tests.

While some advocate for switching to the Public Safety Test, others raise apprehensions about potential quality compromises.

Notably, a recent tentative agreement between the city and the Seattle Police Officers Guild proposes to make Seattle officers the highest paid in the state, albeit retroactively. Discussions persist regarding future pay and working conditions. As deliberations continue, the council remains steadfast in its commitment to revitalizing police recruitment efforts to uphold public safety standards.

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King County Council Committee approves new minimum wage ordinance

On April 16, the King County Council’s Transportation, Economy, and Environment Committee approved a new minimum wage ordinance that would cover businesses in the unincorporated (i.e., areas governed by King County because they are not in cities) areas of the county.

If approved by the full County Council, the ordinance would create a minimum wage of $20.29 effective January 1, 2025 for employers with 500 or more employees. For small employers (with 15 or fewer employees and less than $2 million revenue), the ordinance mandates a minimum hourly wage of $17.29. Medium-sized employers (with16-499 employees) would pay a minimum wage at $18.29/hour. All three wage levels would rise annually, tied to the Consumer Price Index. In addition, the lower minimum wage for medium and small employers is phased out over a few years, bringing them in line with the large-employer wage standard.

John Engber, lobbyist for Washington Retail, gave public comment encouraging the Committee to include a credit for full compensation. Engber argued that employees would not benefit if the minimum wage law encourages employers to drop health insurance and other employee benefits because it’s much more expensive for those employees to buy their own insurance on the individual market. He also urged the Council to address the county’s housing shortage, which is the primary factor in making the region unaffordable for many low-wage workers.

The Committee approved the minimum wage ordinance without adding a credit for full compensation. The full King County Council next meets on April 23. At this time, the minimum wage ordinance is not on the meeting agenda.

Seattle allocates $1.2M to aid small businesses affected by property damage

Seattle’s small businesses have faced significant challenges due to property crime, with the city's aid program allocating $1.2 million since its 2022 inception. In response to escalating crime rates, Seattle's Office of Economic Development deployed nearly $2 million in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to support affected businesses. With property crime reaching a peak in 2022, the Seattle Police Department documented 44,424 cases, the highest since 2008.

The program serves a dual purpose: offering relief to businesses and reinforcing support for Seattle's small business community.

Despite the $1.2 million expenditure, $800,000 remains from the initial federal allocation. Business owners are encouraged to apply for $2,000 grants to address current or previous property damage, including broken doors and windows, sustained since March 2020. The program reflects Seattle's commitment to assisting small businesses in overcoming challenges and fostering resilience within the community.

Apply for the Storefront Repair Fund

Seattle taxpayer survey reveals resistance to new taxes amidst budget deficit

Seattle faces a growing budget deficit, but a recent survey by the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce reveals that taxpayers are opposed to new taxes to address the issue. Despite an anticipated increase in city revenues, a projected deficit of $245 million looms for next year due in part to increased wages for city employees. The survey, titled "The Index," showed that over three-fourths of voters reject tax hikes, preferring that the city prioritize essential services, support vulnerable residents, and trim non-critical spending.

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell's proposed transportation levy, costing homeowners approximately $36 a month, faces skepticism in light of the survey's findings. The Chamber of Commerce emphasizes the need for efficient spending, echoing sentiments shared by 80% of surveyed voters who believe the city already possesses sufficient funds for essential priorities.

The survey's outcome casts doubt on the approval of a proposed levy renewal in November. Despite previous voter support for measures like the housing levy, which aims to collect $970 million by 2030, taxpayers seem hesitant to further burden themselves with additional taxes. The call from the Chamber of Commerce is clear: prioritize spending effectively before considering new taxes.

Battling fentanyl crisis and organized retail crime: King County's multifaceted approach

In the battle against the fentanyl crisis gripping communities nationwide, King County has established proactive measures. With the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reporting fentanyl as the leading cause of death for Americans aged 18 to 45, and alarming statistics revealing that 7 out of every 10 pills seized by the DEA contain a lethal dose of fentanyl, urgent action is paramount. Seattle's geographic location, nestled on I-5, intersecting I-405 and I-90, and its proximity to Canada, make it a hub for narcotics distribution throughout the Northwest.

Operation Engage, spearheaded by the DEA, has been pivotal in addressing the escalating fentanyl crisis in Seattle and its surrounding areas. This collaborative effort aims to disrupt and dismantle drug trafficking networks responsible for the distribution of fentanyl and other illicit substances. According to the DEA Seattle Field Division, the operation has resulted in significant seizures, including 3.7 million fentanyl pills in 2023.

The urgency of the situation cannot be overstated. Fentanyl is claiming innocent lives at an alarming rate, necessitating a collective effort to combat this deadly scourge. In response to the alarming surge in fentanyl-related overdoses, King County has unveiled a comprehensive strategy to combat the crisis. This multifaceted plan, announced by County Executive Dow Constantine, encompasses various sectors including public health, social services, and law enforcement.

With fentanyl overdoses reaching record highs in Washington, claiming over 1,000 lives in 2023 alone, urgent action is imperative. The county's initiatives aim to enhance access to community-based treatment, expand behavioral health facilities, and distribute overdose reversal medication like naloxone.

Simultaneously, law enforcement agencies are grappling with the scourge of organized retail crime often fueled by drug trafficking. Bellevue police recently dismantled a major theft ring responsible for pilfering luxury apparel, including high-value items from Lululemon, Nordstrom, and Macy’s stores across the region. The theft crew's sophisticated tactics, including disguises and coordinated heists, resulted in losses exceeding half a million dollars.

This crackdown highlights the detrimental impact of organized retail crime on businesses and consumers alike. The stolen merchandise, often sold at significantly reduced prices, not only undermines retailers but also drives up costs for consumers.

The apprehension of suspects involved in these crimes underscores the collaborative efforts between law enforcement and private sector stakeholders. Despite the challenges posed by sophisticated criminal operations, Bellevue police, aided by vigilant store security measures, successfully identified and apprehended key perpetrators.

In the ongoing battle against both fentanyl abuse and organized retail crime, community engagement is pivotal. Heightened awareness, coupled with proactive measures such as access to treatment resources and robust security protocols, is crucial in safeguarding public health and economic well-being.

Best Buy and Microsoft turn e-waste into fashionable art for Earth Month

Best Buy and Microsoft are teaming up to celebrate Earth Month in style. Best Buy, known for its e-waste recycling efforts, is offering customers a $50 discount on Surface devices when they recycle their old laptops and tablets at Best Buy stores. But the excitement doesn't stop there. These recycled devices will be used for an innovative fashion contest in collaboration with Junk Kouture, a sustainable fashion competition for youth.

NYC-area students will get creative, crafting high-fashion items from recycled tech. Equipped with Microsoft Surface Pro 9 devices and Microsoft 365 applications, students will collaborate and design avant-garde pieces.

This partnership underscores both companies' commitment to sustainability and inspires customers to make a positive impact on the planet. It's a fashionable twist on Earth Day activism, demonstrating that recycling old tech can lead to innovative solutions and lasting environmental benefits.

Amazon expands Bellevue presence with Tower 555: Adding space for 3,000 employees

Amazon is enhancing its presence in Bellevue with the completion of Tower 555, adding space for 3,000 more employees. The announcement, made by Pearl Leung at a real estate symposium, reflects Amazon's commitment to the region's growth.

With 500,000 square feet of additional space, Tower 555 expands the company's footprint in the 42-story building. Bellevue Chamber President Joe Fain praised Amazon's investment, highlighting its positive impact on the city.

Amazon's expansion aligns with its goal of creating 25,000 jobs in the area. Additionally, the company is investing $670 million in affordable housing across the Puget Sound, benefiting Bellevue and neighboring areas.

This move underscores Bellevue's appeal as a business-friendly community with ample amenities and a talented workforce. As the city thrives despite post-pandemic challenges, Amazon's continued investment reflects confidence in Bellevue's potential for growth and prosperity.

Dick’s commits $2M for youth sports on 10th anniversary of Sports Matter Program

Dick’s Sporting Goods Foundation marks the 10th anniversary of its Sports Matter Program by committing $2 million to a new grant initiative.

Through their giveback program, a portion of Dick’s Sporting Goods (DSG) private brand sales directly supports this initiative, which has already provided over $100 million to aid 2 million young athletes. Vice President Rick Jordan emphasized the power of sports to shape futures and announced 20 grants of $10,000 each to Pittsburgh-based organizations, with another 10 grants planned for Boston.

Throughout the year, more grants will be awarded to youth sports organizations nationwide. Partnerships with organizations like Every Kid Sports and Good Sports aim to cover registration fees and provide equipment to underserved communities. Additionally, partnerships with LISC and DonorsChoose will help build infrastructure and support educators/coaches, ensuring more kids stay in the game. With 850 stores across various brands, Dick’s reaffirms its commitment to fostering youth sports nationwide.

AI revolutionizes e-commerce: Personalized shopping experiences and seamless integration

AI in e-commerce is reshaping online shopping, offering a personalized experience worth over $8 billion in investments. With AI, businesses craft tailored recommendations and manage inventory efficiently, revolutionizing how we shop.

Virtual assistants, powered by AI like Amazon's Alexa, simplify shopping with voice commands, enhancing customer satisfaction. Visual and voice search make finding products intuitive, especially on mobile devices. AI is also used to enhance existing fraud detection procedures, ensuring secure transactions.

Despite the technical hurdles that come along with implementing new technology, the future of AI in e-commerce looks promising. For businesses, embracing AI advancements is key to staying competitive. The personalized recommendations, enhanced customer service, voice shopping, and augmented reality experiences offers a pathway to memorable shopping experiences that keep customers coming back for more.

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WR diversity statement

WR is committed to the principles of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. We strive to create a safe, welcoming environment in which these principles can thrive.

We value all people regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, identity, sexual orientation, nationality, or disability, and that is the foundation of our commitment to those we serve.

Washington Retail Staff

Renée Sunde, President/CEO — 360.200.6450 — Email

Mark Johnson, Sr. VP of Policy & Government Affairs — 360.943.0667 — Email

Crystal Leatherman, State & Local GA Manager — 360.200-6453 — Email

Rose Gundersen, VP of Operations & Retail Services — 360.200.6452 — Email