Opinion Columns & Blogs

Port races are important for Thurston County economic future

Robert Rose
Robert Rose

Thurston County voters will elect two new Port of Olympia commissioners this fall. These candidates won’t generate the publicity of legislators or mayors, but they’ll help shape our community’s future.

The commissioners will lead one of our region’s most valuable assets, an organization critical to the economic, environmental and cultural health of Thurston County. Their decisions will go a long way in determining its significance in the future.

Thurston County residents benefit from the port, even if they don’t work within the maritime industry, in ways many may not recognize or may take for granted.

That’s why the Thurston County Chamber and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 47 have joined forces to promote public understanding of the port’s unique and valuable contributions to our community.

We began by asking the public what they know about the port’s operations and how they feel about its impact on the local community. This research (by pollster Stuart Elway in March) confirmed strong public support for the port. More than 80 percent said the port has a positive impact on the county; 90 percent mentioned at least one community benefit it provides.

These benefits take many forms: space for the Farmers Market, public waterfront access, a venue for popular community festivals. Accordingly, 83 percent said the port has a positive impact on local culture and diversity.

Similarly, respondents valued the port’s work to clean up pollution left behind from past waterfront industries.

The port was key in cleaning up land on which the Hands On Children’s Museum now sits, and it’s been the lead agency on other significant environmental cleanup projects, including the Cascade Pole site, Budd Inlet sediment and removal of derelict creosote pilings. Over 70 percent feel these efforts have had a positive impact on our local environment.

The most significant benefits most people see are the port’s economic contributions; nearly 80 percent said that jobs supported by the port are significant.

But jobs were just the start of the economic value story. Poll respondents also recognized the port’s role in driving additional private sector economic activity, generating tax revenues for state and local government, strengthening our international ties, and supporting revitalization of Olympia’s downtown.

The port is part of the historic fabric of Olympia. There remains great public support for its economic, environmental and cultural contributions. The more people know about the Port of Olympia, the more they value it.

Voters should take the upcoming port commission races seriously. Learn more about how the candidates view the port and their visions for its future. Determine whether those views align with your own.

Port commission candidates have the opportunity to lead an organization the public values and supports. Protecting and enhancing this important community asset will be a great responsibility.

Robert Rose is business agent for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Local 47, and David Schaffert is president and chief executive officer of the Thurston County Chamber of Commerce.