I’m proud of what the Port of Bellingham accomplished under my watch on its board of commissioners. In my view, the most important thing the Port did was help create jobs for Whatcom County residents.
We recently finished building All American Marine a new 58,000-square-foot manufacturing facility allowing the local boat builder to double their workforce. We sold Itek Energy land and a warehouse near the downtown waterfront to build a state-of-the-art solar panel manufacturing facility and hire new employees.
We completed one of the largest cleanup projects in our state’s history in the Whatcom Waterway, which led to new cargo activity at the Bellingham Shipping Terminal, new marine trades’ activity at the C Street Terminal, the construction of new waterfront roads and parks, the restoration of the Granary Building, and more development projects on the way.
We passed a rental policy in support of marine trades businesses and partnered with the city and county to hire a new economic development director based at the Port to recruit new businesses to Whatcom County and help local companies expand. These are just a few examples of how the Port fulfilled its mission for economic development while I served on its board of commissioners.
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When I started my term in office four years ago, it was important to me to make sure that the Port was operating lean and mean and not wasting the taxpayers’ hard-earned money. As a long-time business owner with experience supervising up to 160 employees, I have a good sense for how successful companies should be managed.
As commissioner, I took a close look at the Port’s diverse lines of business and found the Port to be extremely well run under the leadership of Executive Director Rob Fix. Rob has the financial background and highly qualified staff in place to handle extremely complicated projects.
The All American Marine project is a great example. With the local company poised to move out of state, the Port found All American a suitable site on the downtown waterfront, removed contaminated fill under Ecology oversight, secured grant funding from Whatcom County’s Economic Development Investment program, modified the Squalicum Harbor boat launch to handle All American’s vessels, and built a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility.
This complex project needed to be finished quickly or All American would lose out on multi-million dollar contracts, and the Port proved to be up to the task. The best part is that the Port will see a return on its investment in the years to come from the ongoing lease payments. These are the types of projects that make good business sense and the Port should continue to support.
There is not one vote I regret making or made simply to get votes. If future commissioners do the same, the Port, and our economy, will be in good hands.
Having spent my entire life in Whatcom County, I’ve seen some really successful businesses get started from the ground up. Although online shopping has completely changed the retail landscape, our Pacific Northwest culture of innovation and entrepreneurship is alive and well in Whatcom County. From fish to berries to rope to boats, our local products are being sold around the world and the Port is in a great position to help successful companies grow by providing lease opportunities, contract work, workforce training assistance, grant funding, marketing, permitting help, partnership on environmentally sound projects, and networking assistance with higher education, businesses, government agencies and tribes.
Moving forward, I hope the Port continues to invest in projects like All American Marine, which create jobs and are not highly speculative. There is no shortage of ideas for the Port to spend money on, and it will take backbone from future commissioners to not pander to special interest groups and make good business decisions.
Maintaining and expanding the Port’s diverse assets is essential to ensuring the long-term financial health of the organization.
While serving as commissioner, it was important to me to try and do the best job possible. I attended training sessions held by the Washington Public Ports Association and talked with commissioners and staff from many of the 75 other port districts around the state. Some of the valuable advice I received was to meet each week with the executive director and to always “stay in your lane” by providing high-level strategic direction.
I’m proud to say that during my four years as port commissioner, there is not one vote I regret making or made simply to get votes. If future commissioners do the same, the Port, and our economy, will be in good hands.
As for my future, I will continue to serve my community through the service organization that I belong to by giving people a hand up. I will also continue enjoying family and friends in this wonderful community that we call home.
I feel blessed to have served as your Port commissioner.
Dan Robbins served four years as District 1 Port Commissioner.