In Our View: A Century of Progress

Port of Vancouver celebrates successand has the statistics to back it up

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One hundred years ago -- on April 6, 1912 -- local voters were asked if they believed “the best commercial interest of Clark County and the city of Vancouver” would be served by creating an official Port of Vancouver. Their response was overwhelming: 77.9 percent said “yes.”Today, through careful stewardship and steady growth, even recently during the economic downturn, the convergence of private and public interests at the Port of Vancouver is almost taken for granted. That would be a mistake, though, when one considers some of the port’s recent statistics.

Before quantifying that century of success, The Columbian first congratulates the local port for its stunningly successful century. The port’s contributions to our community transcend mere exports and imports. Our local economy is buttressed by the port. Our environment is protected by the port’s adherence to government regulations, even enhanced by the port’s mitigation projects. Our jobs market is diversified by the port’s interaction with such varied commercial interests as wheat, bulk minerals, wind-energy components, automobiles, pulp, scrap metal and other cargos. The economic impact extends beyond the water to a large assortment of industrial operations. That original, century-old “best commercial interest” is broadened by the port’s ties to markets around the world.

All of this is accomplished with public support; about $10 million in taxes is collected annually from property owners in the port’s 111-square-mile taxing district.

In short, Vancouver and Clark County -- although 90 miles from the Pacific Ocean -- reap a myriad of benefits from their deep-water port. And here are a few of the numerical manifestations of this powerful public-private partnership:

About $1.6 billion in economic benefit was pumped into the region in 2011 by the Port of Vancouver.

This year, marine and industrial businesses at the port employ an estimated 2,300 people.

In 2011, the Port of Vancouver generated more than $37 million in operating income, an 18 percent increase over that of 2010.

Connecting with global markets, 456 ocean-going vessels called on the port in 2011, up from 405 in 2010.

Although slight decreases were seen this past year in automobiles, wheat and other cargos, the emerging wind-energy component market more than tripled at the port in 2011, to 106,182 metric tons.

Land operations continue to thrive and expand at the port. Adding two new businesses in 2011, the port now has more than 50 tenants, with an occupancy rate of 94 percent. That’s expected to increase to 97 percent this year.

As successful as the port’s first century has been, the future is even brighter. The extensive West Vancouver Freight Access project is projected for completion by 2017. The port expects to create 1,000 permanent jobs in the next decade.

At Friday’s Port Re:Port banquet, Executive Director Larry Paulson defined the port’s role as caretaker of the public’s interest in industrial development and maritime trade. When he retires next month, Paulson will look back on 13 years of keeping a steady hand on the figurative rudder. In the larger context, our community can look back on a century of success, commissioned by those 631 visionary voters in 1912.

Two world wars, one Great Depression and one Great Recession later, the port is as vibrant as ever.