By Charlie Sheldon
Port of Bellingham Executive Director
At the Port of Bellingham, job retention and job creation are at the top of our priority list. Our commissioners and our staff recognize the responsibility of being the one local government that was created by the state Legislature 100 years ago for economic development.
We operate the fourth fastest growing airport in the nation and we are in the process of investing $60 million in it so that it continues to serve our community and customers. Rather than relying on property taxes, this is being paid for from passenger fees and Federal Aviation Administration funds that are also generated by passengers.
In 2012 and 2013, we will be investing $28 million in Phase 2 of the Commercial Airport Terminal construction. Phase 1, which was about $10 million, added 20,000 square feet to the passenger waiting area. This next phase will complete what will be a 119,000-square-foot terminal – nearly triple the size of our terminal before we began expanding two years ago.
Our airport is one of the major economic development engines in Whatcom County. As our air services expand so do the many jobs tied to the airport. Increased passengers and air service destinations help new businesses locate here because now they can reach their customers more easily and directly. Connections to Hawaii and points south see hundreds of thousands of tourists passing through our facility. These travelers are likely to return to Whatcom County to try out the many great local destinations such as Mount Baker, North Cascades National Park, or the islands.
We bring new jobs to the community through recruiting new businesses and having available the facilities, infrastructure and welcoming business attitude that companies need and expect. Last year we were pleased to work with two companies who are new to Bellingham – Superior Energy and Greenberry Industrial – who are working at the shipping terminal constructing modules that will be transported to Alaska. They plan to employ about 100 people.
We also worked with Index Sensors, an electronic switch manufacturer that wanted to move to Bellingham. They plan to employ up to 50 people and the construction of their facility in Fairhaven generated about 20 construction jobs.
Nearly 250 businesses operate on port property. We work with these existing businesses to help them grow or to adapt their leases to help them weather these difficult economic times. This past year, we’ve been focusing efforts on strengthening our marine trades and commercial fishing industries and we are seeing some great results from that effort. At times we cannot accommodate a new or relocating business on our property and, when that occurs, we do everything we can to make sure they stay in Whatcom County.
We also create immediate jobs through our own capital projects. The port operates marinas in Blaine and Bellingham, with about 2,000 moorage customers. In 2012 we will be investing $2.4 million in dredging and building new docks at Squalicum Harbor. You can see people working right now on that project. This year we will be spending more than $3.5 million repairing our shipping terminal facility so that it will continue to serve our community.
Work is underway on important environmental cleanups that will improve our marine and upland environment and prepare contaminated property for re-use and reinvestment. We have more than $8 million in the 2012 budget for environmental projects in Bellingham and Blaine. All told, we have nearly 50 different capital projects in 2012, ranging from painting projects to multimillion dollar construction projects. We will be spending about $2 million a month for the next two years on capital projects. Every one of those projects represents high quality jobs.
Finally, our more than 250 tenants and customers at the airport, along the waterfront, and in our industrial lands provide thousands of jobs to Whatcom County. The marine trades sector alone provides more than 2,000 direct jobs. Their success is our success, and contributes to the economic health of this great region.