Washington is blessed with natural and man-made transportation assets that give the state enviable economic competitive advantages over most other areas of the country: deep water ports, one of the largest river systems in North America, a premier freight rail network and two intersecting interstate highways.
Our transportation system has been the foundation of Washington’s economy from the state’s earliest days and continues even in today’s modern, high-tech era. Nearly 40 percent of all jobs in Washington are tied to trade. A study commissioned by the Washington Council on International Trade and BNSF Railway found that freight rail adds $28.5 billion to Washington’s economy each year, and additionally, 342,000 Washington jobs depend on rail transportation. Another recent report conducted by the Ports of Tacoma and Seattle found that the Northwest Seaport Alliance’s marine cargo activities alone supported 58,400 jobs across the state economy.
Industrial lands are a key component to Washington’s continued strong and diverse economy. Maritime, railroading, manufacturing and other industrial businesses provide good family-wage jobs and also deliver the goods and services that we all depend on every day. These jobs and services are tied to accessible industrial lands and a robust transportation system. Some of Washington’s most iconic industries, like agriculture, rely on a strong supply chain and shared infrastructure. For example, according to the Washington Council on International Trade, Washington exported $798 million worth of frozen potatoes in 2018, much of it in the form of French fries, hash browns, and tater tots. Asia is the largest consumer of frozen potatoes, and Japan imported the most of any single nation at $206 million.
To ensure Washington goods are able to get to market we must have thriving industrial centers, freight corridors and a streamlined supply chain. Unlike other important sectors—like technology—the transportation assets for many critical industries are “place based.” Ports and railroads can’t pick up and move their operations to other locations in the country or the world. They either make it here or they fail, eliminating jobs and weakening our economic base.
More often than not, the location of these important assets are on lands that are zoned for industrial use. Industrial lands should be recognized, valued and protected as the true economic assets they are. Once we lose industrial lands, they are gone forever.
Infrastructure investments and smart planning policies that protect industrial lands and reduce land use conflicts are necessary to keep the system working efficiently and effectively. As the population continues to grow, there will be a desire to encroach on valuable industrial lands for affordable housing and other uses. Without proper planning and clear and consistent policies, we will end up diminishing one of our most important economic engines.
We urge state and local leaders to engage a broad base of industry, business and community voices and develop comprehensive policies that protect industrial lands, ensuring their highest and best use. Poor land-use planning and the loss of industrial lands hurts all of us.
Andrew Johnsen is the Vice President of Community Affairs for BNSF Railway. Bruce Agnew is the Director of Cascadia Center and the ACES NW Network.