As I watch our community pick sides in the debate over the proposed oil transfer facility at the Port of Vancouver, I’m struck by the one issue no one seems to be talking about: jobs.
Despite all the political rhetoric since the 2008 recession about wanting to increase employment opportunities in our community, for some reason the 120 new jobs that the Tesoro-Savage facility would create don’t seem to be worthy of being part of the debate.
These jobs — with a starting pay between $50,000 and $80,000 annually — would have a profound positive impact on our community. Not only to the jobholder and his or her family, but to the stores, shops, auto dealers, etc., who will benefit from the wages of these earners.
If you want to meet someone who will benefit from these new jobs at the oil terminal, I would invite you to come visit us at the Northwest Railway Institute (NRI). We established the NRI in Vancouver last year when it was made public that nearly 40,000 railway workers in the United States will retire by 2025. Further, there are limited efforts being made to train replacement employees.
We are required by our accrediting body to find employment for a minimum of 70 percent of our graduates and to do that within 90 days of graduation. We have no problem exceeding 70 percent, but many graduates are required to relocate geographically because jobs are not available locally.
Our school is now fully enrolled with members of this community who want to better their situation and are taking our 24-week training program at our facility on Grand Avenue. We provide not only the classroom training, but we also have a switch engine and rail cars at the Columbia Business Center where our students get experience with the type of equipment they will be using.
The fundamental premise of all of our instruction is safety first. The reason for that is simple: the railroads have told us that safety is their top priority. They are not interested in hiring personnel who have not had that “safety first” mentality drilled into them.
So who are our students? Most are from this region, but the program is drawing students from all over the country. They are of good character: We will not accept them if they have any felony convictions, even a DUI. About 16 percent are men and women of color; 35 percent are veterans. They range in age from 18 to 50.
But most importantly, they are members of our community who are hopeful of being able to find employment locally, establishing themselves as contributing members to our PTAs, Boy and Girl xcouts, and other solid community organizations — and providing a good living for their families.
It’s easy, I suppose, to say that the jobs the oil terminal will provide aren’t “the kind of jobs we want.” It’s not what we meant when we said we wanted to create job opportunities for a broad spectrum of our citizens. What we really want is jobs for the “creative class.”
If any of that reflects your perspective, I’d suggest you come down and talk to any of our students. These are the people we should be focused on — hard-working, bright people with good values. People who will make this a better community. Those 120 jobs are very important to our students and they should be important to our community.
Arch Miller is CEO of the Northwest Railway Institute, located in Vancouver.