Cantwell stumps in Vancouver to preserve tax credit program

Farwest Steel is one of the beneficiaries of the break

By Gordon Oliver, Columbian Business Editor

Published:

 

Sen. Maria Cantwell chose one of Clark County’s rare business construction sites Wednesday to send a message to her colleagues in the U.S. Capitol: Congress should renew a tax credit program that helps finance company expansions.

“This should move to the top of the list of ideas to get economic growth,” said Cantwell, a Democrat, as earth movers rumbled behind her at the construction site for Farwest Steel Corp. at the Port of Vancouver.

Farwest Steel is the first Clark County beneficiary of the New Markets Tax Credit program, a 10-year-old federal financing initiative that aims to stimulate business and real estate investments in low-income communities. The company, based in Eugene, Ore., obtained $48 million in federally subsidized financing to build and equip a steel fabrication plant scheduled to open next year. Farwest says it will bring 228 jobs to Vancouver, including 128 new jobs and 100 relocated from other sites, including Tualatin, Ore.

Pat Eagen, Farwest’s chief executive officer, said the tax credits allowed the company to build a larger project than originally planned and to purchase key equipment that will help the company grow and increase employment. The project is the largest in the history of the steel fabrication firm, he said.

“We’re just thrilled to be out here moving dirt,” he said.

The New Markets Tax Credit program is scheduled to expire at the end of this year. Cantwell said she would co-sponsor a bill that would extend the tax credit for five years and provide $5 billion in annual allocation authority. The program now has $3.5 billion in annual credit authority. Other sponsors are Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.V., and Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine.

Government programs and subsidies of all types are under attack from lawmakers and citizens who want to reduce government spending. Recent brinkmanship over increasing the federal debt ceiling highlights the depth of polarization over spending issues. Cantwell’s press conference suggests that battle lines are already clearly drawn.

Representatives of the Washington, D.C.-based New Markets Tax Credit Coalition were on hand with fact sheets about projects in Oregon and Washington benefitting from the tax credit program, including Portland’s Community Transitional School for homeless and low-income children and the FareStart Adult Culinary Academy in Seattle, which provides job training and placement for homeless men and women.

Taking note of Clark County’s high unemployment rate, Cantwell encouraged city and port officials to forge ahead in creating more jobs. “I just want to say to the city and port: Keep going. Come up with other projects,” she said.