Ports are not ornaments; they were established to facilitate commerce and job creation.
In 1889, the people of Washington included within their new state constitution an authorization for local port authorities to use public funds for “industrial development or trade promotion.”
Here in Whatcom County, the Port of Bellingham, which serves the entire county, recognizes its mission as being, “…to fulfill the essential transportation and economic development needs of the region while providing leadership in maintaining greater Whatcom County’s overall economic vitality…”
Bellingham’s waterfront has lost much of its industrial activity over the years, and the recent opposition to consideration of new industry — seemingly any new industry — defies logic.
To borrow a phrase, “It’s the economy, stupid.” That’s why we have ports and public port districts. But the port has managed to pursue its mission in a way that also complements the environment and provides for open space and shoreline recreation.
An important study shows us why working ports are so essential. They are not only gateways to trade (and we are the most trade-dependent state in the nation), but they are also home to some of the highest paying jobs anywhere.
The study was conducted by the respected Seattle research firm Community Attributes for the Economic Development Council of Seattle and King County, the Workforce Development Council of Seattle-King County and the Puget Sound Regional Council. Entitled the Washington State Maritime Cluster Economic Impact Study, the report inventories a wide range of maritime-related industries in the hope of providing a foundation for future efforts to grow the sector throughout the state.
“The maritime industry in Washington is historically and economically vital, but its importance is often under recognized. This report clearly shows the sector’s importance to the state, local communities, and workers,” said Marléna Sessions, CEO of the Workforce Development Council of Seattle-King County. “The information in this report will help all stakeholders focus on Maritime’s importance, its continued economic vitality, and its workforce pathways to good paying jobs.”
At a time when a majority of Washingtonians have slipped below the middle class, according to Pew Research, the last thing we need is to gentrify our ports away from industrial uses like shipping, fishing, manufacturing, agriculture and repair services. These things have always been the lifeblood of our seacoast economies, and they will continue to be for generations to come. Even Boeing airplanes get built by using port facilities.
Bellingham’s waterfront has lost much of its industrial activity over the years, and the recent opposition to consideration of new industry — seemingly any new industry — defies logic. Without industry, there are no family-wage jobs and no taxes to pay for services and parks. Without revenue from industry, the port will be forced to load more cost on existing businesses and on uses like recreational and commercial moorage. And they may have to levy taxes on Whatcom County property owners and renters, which further increases the burden of living in one of the least affordable housing markets in Washington (according to the state Department of Commerce).
Whatcom County is increasingly a community of “haves” and “have-nots.” Even the national presidential debates include a lot of talk about the “income gap.” One of the best ways to bridge that gap is with good-paying industrial jobs. And that’s where working ports come in.
Darren Williams is business agent of the Bellingham longshore union, ILWU Local 7; Brad Owens is a building and construction trades union leader and John Huntley owns an electrical contracting firm. They wrote this on behalf of the Northwest Jobs Alliance, a Whatcom County non-profit, non-partisan organization whose mission is to promote the growth of family wage jobs in the context of sound environmental practice.