For the Reporter (June 6, 2016)

A video released today by state Sen. Pam Roach details the importance of ports to job creation in Washington.

Filmed at the South Harbor of the Northwest Seaport Alliance, formerly known as the Port of Tacoma, the video takes an in-depth look at the competitive challenges currently facing Washington ports.

Roach, R-Sumner, chairs the Senate Government Operations and Security Committee, which is responsible for issues related to local governments, including port districts. She produced the video to raise awareness of the importance of international trade in Washington job creation, and the steps that need to be taken if the state is to maintain its trading advantage.

“This is a very important issue,” Roach said. “We do a ton of business through our Puget Sound ports, but we face big challenges in keeping those ports competitive, from the unfair federal ‘harbor maintenance tax’ to competition from Canada and the Panama Canal.”

In the video, Roach interviews public- and private-sector experts including Dean McGrath, president of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 23 in Tacoma; Sean Eagan, director of government affairs for the Northwest Seaport Alliance; Tacoma Rail Superintendent Dale King; and Bob Haberman, a local hay exporter who relies on the ports.

McGrath, who represents more than 1,000 workers, notes that Canada has recognized the importance of port facilities to economic growth and is investing heavily in both the Port of Vancouver and the Port of Prince Rupert. Some 40 percent of jobs in the Puget Sound are related directly or indirectly to international trade, he notes.

“The ports are the heartbeat of that economy,” he said. “And if you look around, the heart needs a bit of a workout – we need some upgrades. That’s really my focus – how do we stay competitive?”

In the video, Eagan discusses some of the steps the Seaport Alliance is taking to stay competitive, including a recent investment of $140 million to modernize and expand Tacoma’s Husky terminal and similar investments to modernize Terminal 5 in Seattle.

“This is so important because of all of the jobs associated with our ports,” Eagan said. “There are 48,000 jobs in the Puget Sound region directly tied to the movement of cargo through our harbors. In addition to that, we are generating 380 million dollars in tax revenue both on a local and state level; so that is helping to pay for our local schools, parks and fire departments.

“We face a number of competitive threats … we’ve got to make sure that we are making investments to keep that cargo and keep those jobs.”

Roach plans a series of work sessions and hearings this summer on port competitiveness. Washington citizens and lawmakers need to understand the urgency of port upgrades if the state is to remain competitive, she said.

“It’s very clear that we are going to need to address the issue of port competitiveness in next year’s legislative session, particularly where it concerns the ports of Tacoma and Seattle, which comprise the Northwest Seaport Alliance,” Roach said.

“These improvements are going to require investment and an improved understanding by legislators of our current situation – our advantages, disadvantages and the places where we have begun to slip.”