Don’t forget the industrial sector

Winkler,-VictorIn this economy, we’re all focused on creating and retaining jobs. And we should be. The unemployment rate in Clark County is currently 10.1 percent, more than a full percentage point higher than the statewide average. People around here want to work, and our companies need to feel confident enough to invest
and hire.

While we talk about getting our economy rolling again, we shouldn’t focus exclusively on the high-tech startups that seem to grab most of the spotlight. Our industrial sector must also grow, and there are plenty of reasons to feel optimistic.

Many people look at Metro Metals Northwest and mistakenly see a junk yard. You may have observed our Port of Vancouver operations, which you can watch from Amtrak as it passes. We work with big machines and get grease under our nails. But we’re a growing, environmentally-conscious exporter that pays family wages. We want to be here in Vancouver for a long time, taking on new employees and becoming a national player in our business.

Basically, we’re into recycling. Scrap is used in every two out of three pounds of steel made in the United States. That’s good for our economy, and our environment; the federal Environmental Protection Agency states that recycling industrial metals helps reduce air pollution, waste and energy usage. We export iron and steel from automobiles, farm equipment, household appliances, steel beams and other sources. Between 600 and 700 vehicles deliver scrap from Clark County and beyond to our business daily.

My dad started collecting scrap in the back of his pickup truck in 1953. Establishing strong personal relationships was key to our success and growth over the years, and today we employ 95 people at the Port of Vancouver. Our revenues to the port and longshore union workers will reach $9 million this year, up from $7 million last year. We’re the second largest exporter from the Port of Vancouver. We were named “Tenant of the Year” in 2010, and in 2009 we received an award for environmental stewardship. We’re proud of the role we’ve played in making the Port of Vancouver a “working port,” which provides a critical gateway to the Pacific Rim.

So what’s our advice for building a stronger economy? Don’t forget the industrial sector.

Although not always glamorous, the industrial sector builds products and sells materials that the rest of the world wants to buy. And with good, local people here in Vancouver, we can compete with anyone. We’re not anti-government by any means. Indeed, we need good partners who can match their public responsibilities with the increasingly pressing need to create and maintain jobs.

There is no sugarcoating the challenges we face, both as a county and as a nation. But let’s not overlook our local assets and advantages as we build a new, more sustainable economy. We have smart workers willing to get their hands dirty. We have a growing export market for our products. Let’s continue to build our industrial sector, and keep our community strong.     

Victor Winkler is the president of Metro Metals Northwest, parent company of Pacific Coast Shredding – a scrap metal recycler located at the Port of Vancouver.