Keep Washington globally competitive with public-private partnerships

Todd Coleman

Should we be concerned about our ambitious friends to the north? Yes. However, it’s even more important to be inspired by what B.C. and Canada are accomplishing and to learn from it.

Washingtonians are no strangers to the importance of international trade. Washington has one of the most trade-engaged economies in the country, with 40 percent of our jobs tied to trade. Washington ranks 4th in the U.S. in international exports overall. We’re first in aerospace exports, and third in agricultural exports.

Our trade economy is based on our natural competitive advantages. Washington ports are the closest in the U.S. to key Asian ports. We’re also home to prominent trade-reliant companies like Boeing, Microsoft, Starbucks, Amazon and Weyerhaeuser. Our state offers a wide variety of products and services that are valued overseas.

And we have substantial potential to further boost our trade leadership to create jobs and fuel economic growth. How?

Public-private partnerships are a great place to start. More collaboration between government and the private sector in our state makes sense. Both sectors are committed to economic growth. They should be partners, not adversaries, in that growth. Such partnerships can build a healthy climate for investments that provide jobs and long-term economic stability.

Our port, the Port of Vancouver USA, is a great example. Our West Vancouver Freight Access project is the largest capital project in the port’s 100-year history. It significantly expands the port’s rail track system and freight handling capacity. These rail improvements will increase the port’s freight-handling capacity from five to 15 million tons annually. The $275 million dollar investment of port revenues and local, state and federal funding is expected to attract nearly twice that amount in private investment – some $500 million. The project also is expected to create thousands of construction jobs over the life of the project and between 1,000 and 2,000 permanent jobs.

In the Tri-Cities, the Port of Benton partnered with Washington State University and the Washington wine industry to build the Wine Science Center on the WSU Tri-City campus. This $23 million facility, located on land provided by the port, is being built with both public and private funds and will power research and development that helps ensure the ongoing growth of Washington wine commerce.

The Port of Longview has experienced similar success through partnering, leveraging a $7.5 million dock construction project to clear the way for a privately funded $200 million bulk commodities export terminal.

Move Forward Washington is a coalition of businesses and community leaders throughout Washington dedicated to promoting the importance of international trade for our state, and I appreciate their efforts. It’s clear that public-private partnerships play a vital role in helping our state reach its potential as a trade leader, especially when such partnerships improve critical infrastructure and develop our ports. British Columbia and Canada are on the right track, and we need to get on that track too if we want to remain competitive.

Improving Washington ports and trade infrastructure creates opportunities to capitalize on our competitive advantages and strengthen our trade leadership. Supporting public-private partnerships is a clear path to such improvements and to economic growth. The closer that the private sector and government at all levels work together toward common goals, the more successful our state will be. When we cooperate in funding, planning, permitting and completing port and other infrastructure improvements, we all benefit.

Competition for Asia Pacific trade is fierce, and it’s intensifying. But Washington is already a trade leader and we have the potential to become an even more formidable competitor. Together, we can ensure that “the North American gateway of choice for Asia Pacific trade” is Washington state.

Todd Coleman is the executive director at the Port of Vancouver USA.

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