By Charlie Sheldon
Port of Bellingham executive director
When I ask people what they want to see from the port in the years ahead, jobs are at the top of everyone’s list. Our community needs more jobs and they are hard to come by. Cities and the counties have to run courts, police, fire, jails and much more. It is ports that are expected to generate jobs and transportation facilities. I believe that jobs are the main purpose of a public port.
We have more than 250 businesses operating on port property and each of these businesses provides local jobs. During this economic downturn, we have worked with struggling businesses to move them to smaller spaces, or provide greater flexibility in payment plans to increase their chances of surviving this recession. Some have closed, but many others have continued or even expanded. Just one of our tenants, Bellingham Cold Storage, supports more than 1,000 jobs in this community, and our marine trades sector supports thousands more.
Recently we kicked off a $2 million construction project in Fairhaven that will house Index Sensors, which is moving to Bellingham from Stanwood and adding 35 to 50 new jobs to the community. This work is being done in partnership with our new tenant and with Whatcom County, which provided Economic Development Investment funds for support.
Another example is Seaview North, a boatyard and vessel service company, which has continued to increase the space it leases and operates.
Earlier this year, port commissioners decided to reduce moorage rates for active commercial fishermen in a multi-year effort to recruit more fishing boats from Southeast Alaska and southern Puget Sound to Whatcom County. This fishing season has had record-breaking success and our harbors are packed with fishing vessels. Our fish processors are incredibly busy. We are working with more than 200 marine trades businesses throughout Whatcom County to develop a marine trades directory and to promote their businesses in trade shows throughout the region, with the goal of having more people bring vessels to Whatcom County for service and repair.
We also work with small cities to help them move forward with their economic development projects. Each year the commissioners set aside funds that the Small Cities Partnership Group works with to provide matching money to the small cities. These funds have helped nearly every community in Whatcom County and we look forward to future successes.
The port’s own construction projects provide jobs as well. We are in the middle of a $38 million airport passenger terminal expansion project that is generating hundreds of construction jobs. We are just beginning a $7.5 million dredging and dock-building project at Squalicum Harbor that will improve moorage and will provide capping material for the early phase of the Cornwall Avenue Landfill cleanup. This fall and winter we will be demolishing additional buildings on the Georgia-Pacific site and will begin early contamination cleanup projects there. These projects will provide work for demolition experts, environmental scientists and others.
We are aggressively seeking maritime businesses to use our shipping terminal and adjacent waterfront properties for interim uses that will bring us yet more jobs.
Finally, our airport provides services that support hundreds of companies in this county by providing the freight and passenger connections necessary for businesses to locate and expand here. The airport is a huge economic driver.
We take our role as a job provider seriously. We look forward to new opportunities in the months ahead. Jobs are the key focus for residents in Whatcom County. Jobs are exactly what the Port of Bellingham is about.