Port executive calls for regional cooperation

Portland official says collaboration would boost area's economy

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter

Published:

 
photoBill Wyatt Port of Portland executive director

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Port of Portland Executive Director Bill Wyatt called for greater regional cooperation to strengthen international trade in his keynote address at a Thursday luncheon at the Hilton Vancouver Washington sponsored by the Columbia River Economic Development Council.

Wyatt, who has led Portland's port since 2001, stressed the job-producing importance of traded-sector industries, which produce goods that are used or consumed outside the region. In turn, such companies bring new dollars into the region, shipping finished consumer goods back in, via the Columbia River, said Wyatt. He cited businesses, such as chipmaker Intel with large operations in Hillsboro, Ore., and SEH America's Vancouver facility where silicon wafers are made.

Although Intel is in Oregon, Wyatt said the company is Clark County's fifth-largest employer. It pays an average annual salary of $120,000, he said.

Such high-wage jobs have grown in importance since the late 1990s, a period when Portland-area incomes began to decline relative to the U.S., Wyatt said. He said traded-sector jobs pay significantly higher wages across the board -- an average of approximately $57,500 a year compared to about $49,400. Wyatt also stressed the importance of adding more such jobs to the region, which he said has only gained back about 60 percent of the jobs it lost since August 2008, according to a jobs report compiled by Oregon's Value of Jobs Coalition, made up of Oregon business groups.

"These traded-sector jobs will define our future," said Wyatt, 62, who oversees a port with 700 employees, four marine terminals, Portland International Airport and two general aviation airports.

Foreign trade moving through the port exceeds $15 billion annually, according to a written statement from the port.

Wyatt said Portland International Airport plays an important role in the transportation network that allows the high-tech trade sector to move its products oversees. But high-tech companies constantly wonder whether component transports will beat area traffic and arrive at PDX on time, he said.

Wyatt encouraged bi-state support for the proposed Columbia River Crossing project to replace the Interstate 5 Bridge, just as officials from both states worked together to deepen the river's shipping channel. "Yes, there are political differences" between Washington and Oregon, he said, "but we share a regional economy and regional business interests."

Wyatt added that either side of the state border could land the next trade-sector tech company, firms that crave shovel-ready land for expansion. But he said the region lacks a ready supply of buildable parcels, with just nine out of 56 parcels in Portland that could be development-ready within seven months.

Vancouver has 13 out of 70 such tracts.

Wyatt stressed that a larger land supply could help show trade-sector employers more variety as the economy improves and these firms begin to search for locations.

"We are seeing a lot of tire kickers," he said. "These sites are going to go quickly."

The Columbia River Economic Development Council also celebrated its 30th anniversary Thursday by recognizing founders of the nonprofit business recruitment and jobs promotion organization. Those honored were Carol Curtis, Steve Horenstein, Vern Peterson, Robert Schaefer, and Brian Wolfe. Others recognized in memoriam were Donna Cantonwine, Jim Fowler, and Paul Grattet.