Washington’s Maritime Industries Strong; But Canada Could Eat Our Lunch

Washington's Maritime Industries Strong; But Canada Could Eat Our Lunch
One of the more notable ships to have called on the Port of Tacoma is the ZIM Djibouti. It's almost twice as long as the Space Needle is tall, and has capacity for 10,000 20-foot equivalent container units (TEUs). Photo: Port of Tacoma.

Washington state’s maritime industries are more of an economic powerhouse than you probably imagined. According to a report from the Economic Development Council of Seattle and King County, they generate $30 billion a year in combined direct and indirect revenues. The maritime cluster directly employed 57,700 workers in 2012 and was tied to another 90,000 indirect and induced jobs.

But there’s ample room to grow opportunity and income from the industry. That’s the take-away from a new draft final report approved this week by Washington state lawmakers on the Joint Task Force on Economic Resilience of Maritime and Manufacturing.

K-12 STEM Education A Pipeline To Maritime Jobs

Key recommendations in the report included a greater emphasis within K-12 education on careers in the maritime industries. This would be facilitated through Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) programs and the passage in 2017 of a related career and technical education measure, Senate Bill 6661.

During the task’s force’s final meeting May 9 in Olympia, member Joshua Berger said, “the four-year marine, mechanical and electrical engineering program is a high need. The Maritime Federation did a survey of employers on the highest job priority and this was it.” The pipeline to these types of positions have usually begun in the state’s community and technical colleges but four-year universities are showing an interest and the University of Washington-Bothell is proposing a four-year maritime engineering program, Berger added. He’s the Director of Economic Development for the Maritime Sector of the Washington State Department of Commerce.

The final report approved this week by the task force also recommends:

  • Completion of critical road infrastructure projects including extension of State Route 167 to the Port of Tacoma, and of State Route 509 to I-5 to create easier truck movement to and from Seattle’s port;
  • passage in 2017 of HB 2182 to recapitalize fishing vessels and strengthen the economic base of maritime industries in the state;
  • pinpointing so-called ‘essential public facilities” under the state’s Growth Management Act, which “require shoreline access and industrially-zoned lands to perform their core economic development mission” and are in designated Manufacturing Industrial Centers.

Emphasis On Financing, Partnerships, Land Use

At the final meeting lawmakers heard more from industry, labor and port stakeholders about ramping up maritime-related economic development through innovative financing, deeper partnerships and smarter land-use.

One addressing the group was Jordan Royer, Vice-President of External Affairs for the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association. It represents container shipping lines and marine terminal operators.

Royer said shippers are looking at “costs, reliability, regulatory certainty” and it’s important to see “the way the Canadians are doing it. They have everything aligned: governments, businesses, land use policies, transportation investments…That’s very attractive to my members…to call there when they’re trying to get a box from China to Chicago…I think a lot of work needs to be done” in Washington including a much closer “look at public private partnerships (P3s) on infrastructure investments the way they do it in Canada.”

Washington Should Delve Deeper Into Maritime P3s

Royer added there’s been some “reticence” on P3s in Washington among office-holders but the approach in Canada “has been very effective” for not only marine industry facilities but also “rail and other transportation projects.” Washington state is in a “good spot” based on its proximity to Pacific shipping lanes and its deep water ports, but still needs to step up its game, he added.

Gordon Baxter, a lobbyist for the International Longshoremen Workers Union (ILWU) and numerous other maritime labor unions, said, “Forty percent of the jobs in the state depend on ports. The competition, especially Canadian ports, as used regulatory streamlining and inter-agency and inter-governmental cooperation to prosper, and we really need to take a look at what they’ve done.”

His remarks reflected some of the other concerns raised in the task force’s work by advisory committee members and included in the final report. They included regulatory overlap across levels of government, long permitting processes, impact of water quality regulations, and proposals for an overly-broad “no discharge” zone encompassing all of Puget Sound rather than targeted locations.

Free Flow Of Maritime Commerce With Canada ‘Huge’

Task Force Co-Chair Rep. Gael Tarleton (D-36) said the free flow of maritime commerce with the state’s trading partners is crucial and that includes trade with our competitor, Canada. “Keeping a streamlined trade flow between Canada and the U.S. is huge. Because we are Canada’s largest trading partner in the U.S. and Washington and Canada are each other’s largest trading partners. It’s one waterway, one air shed, one ocean and one Sound.”

Sean Egan, Government Affairs Director for the Port of Tacoma and representing the Seattle-Tacoma ports-backed Northwest Seaport Alliance, emphasized state capital budget support and encouraging smart land use around ports.

The legislature should inventory small to medium sized export- and trade-related projects that are in the state’s capital budget and give special emphasis for those that are “ready-to-go,” Egan said. He added that one such rail project in Tacoma was “really helpful for being able to take in the larger trains that are coming in these days,” allowing the port to more efficiently “flip that cargo onto vessels for export.”

Beware Of Land Uses That Limit Value Of Port Investments

Lawmakers including those at the local level need to pay greater attention to conflicting land uses around marine facilities including ports, Egan said. With memories fresh of the recently-rejected basketball arena proposed for Seattle’s SoDo district near the Port of Seattle, Egan said no one wants to build a skyscraper at the end of a new airport runway and similarly land uses must be closely monitored around marine facilities. It’s not enough to simply designate ports as “essential public facilities” under the state’s growth rules, he added.

Logistics and shipping, and fishing and seafood processing account for about 85 percent of the maritime industry cluster’s revenues in Washington. Other sectors are ship and boat building, maintenance and repair, and passenger water transportation.

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