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Island's future part of job equation

A whopping 490,000 jobs in Oregon are dependent on international trade. Those jobs should be defended from any potential threats, but this region’s public policies aren’t always aligned with the goal of protecting good-paying jobs.

The extreme importance of international trade to the Oregon and Portland-area economy is underscored by a report recently by the Value of Jobs Coalition. This well-documented report describes the key role that exports and imports play in the regional economy. In addition to supporting directly or indirectly 490,000 jobs, trade-related businesses also pay on average 18 percent higher wages than do non-exporting industries.

So why is this important to people who don’t happen to work within that particular economic sector? For one thing, those jobs and the taxes they pay support billions of dollars worth of public services — such as schools. Without those jobs, Oregon’s education system would be in worse financial shape.

This connection between good jobs and good public services cannot be emphasized enough, because local policymakers need to make the right decisions in coming weeks and months if the region is to encourage even more trade-based employment.

One way to attract more international trade in the future would be to allow the Port of Portland to use less than half of West Hayden Island for marine terminals. Yet, the Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission — after a lengthy process — has placed so many conditions on a potential port development that the port said the project is no longer financially viable.

The mayor and city commissioners, who are now considering the West Hayden Island proposal, should work with the port to ensure that the opportunity for marine terminals on Hayden Island is not lost.

Other issues directly affecting international trade include the availability of industrial land within the region’s urban growth boundary and the Columbia River Crossing project, which is essential to move goods to and from the Portland Harbor.

If the region does not provide an adequate supply of land for traded-sector jobs, those good-paying jobs will go elsewhere. Likewise, without improvements to the Interstate 5 bridge and its nearby interchanges, international trade will be impeded.

The Columbia River Crossing will hopefully be in front of the Oregon Legislature again in a special session. Meanwhile, the city of Portland is struggling to meet a state mandate that requires it to identify another 600 acres of land available for new industry. Unless West Hayden Island is in the equation, it will fall far short.

Portland benefits tremendously from its geographic location, its port and its connections to domestic and international markets. Those assets truly drive the economy of the entire state. However, they must be nurtured by public policies that support growth in international trade.

Without careful decisions and investments in projects that boost trade, this region will lose its main economic advantage. If that happens, this state is at risk of a downward economic spiral that leaves less tax money available for all the services — educational, environmental and otherwise — that Oregonians enjoy.




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