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Study: port- and trade-related jobs still crucial in city economy

You’d think residents of a city with “port” in its name would understand the importance of trade and the jobs that come from it.

But many Portlanders rarely set foot on the city’s industrial waterfront and have little sense of the economic role it plays, prompting formation of a business coalition to educate the public. The Value of Jobs Coalition released the latest in a string of studies Wednesday to demonstrate the importance of port- and trade-related jobs, at a breakfast forum put on by the Portland Business Alliance.

Civic leaders need to stress how jobs are key to sustaining our quality of life, by providing the income that helps pay state and local taxes, panelists said. Sean Robbins, chief executive of Greater Portland Inc., suggested that business leaders start citing that “x number” of new jobs can translate into paying for x number of teachers in the classroom, or x numbers of bike lanes.

Compiling confidential data from five large harbor employers, researchers found that they collectively spent 42 percent of their revenue on local goods and services. Vigor Industrial, a Portland-based shipbuilder with $500 million in annual sales, has more than 200 local suppliers, including chemists and health workers at its own medical clinic, said panelist Fred Kiga, the company’s vice president for government affairs.

A map in the new study pinpoints where those five marine industrial companies buy local goods and services, showing large numbers in the Northwest Portland industrial district, the inner-eastside industrial area, North Portland and the Columbia Corridor. There also are many in the industrial belts in Clackamas and Tigard. Some of the suppliers are Platt Electric, Parr Lumber, Elmer’s Flag and Banner, Rodda Paint and even Elephants Delicatessen.

The new study points out the continuing growth in Oregon services sold outside the country, such as software, industrial process royalties, research and development, and green building experts.

“We’re now exporting over $8 billion in services every year,” said Doug Badger, a trade expert who works for Quinn Thomas Public Affairs.

While Oregon exports are now growing rapidly after sagging during the recession, the Portland area is dependent on one sector — semiconductors and other computer-related electronics — for nearly 40 percent of its exports. A huge chunk of that comes from Intel.

“We’re overly dependent on that one industry,” Robbins said.

However, more than 5,000 Oregon companies are now exporting goods and services, and the overwhelming majority of those are small- and mid-sized businesses.

Some 27 percent of Oregon exports come from machinery, chemicals, and transportation equipment, and another 9 percent comes from wood products.

The Value of Jobs Coalition studies calculate that blue-collar workers employed by exporting firms make 20 to 40 percent higher wages than counterparts that aren’t exporting. White-collar workers in export-oriented companies make 16 to 32 percent more than their counterparts in other companies.

The latest study found there are more than 7,000 jobs directly tied to harbor and port activities in the Portland area, plus 4,000 jobs from vendors who supply goods and services for those activities.

The latest study is available at www.valueofjobs.com/international_trade_study_2013/index.html.

Steve Law can be reached at 503-546-5139 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.