Tobias Read briefed on county's industrial growth during mid-week visit to county

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Oregon State Treasurer Tobias Read (center) chats with Port of St. Helens directors and state Sen. Betsy Johnson during a visit to the Port offices Wednesday, Oct. 4. Pictured left to right: Deputy Executive Director Paula Miranda, Executive Director Doug Hayes, Read, and Johnson.Oregon State Treasurer Tobias Read paid a visit to Columbia County on Wednesday, talking economics and Port Westward.

Read stopped by the Port of St. Helens to meet with the Port's executive director, Doug Hayes, as well as Deputy Executive Director Paula Miranda and Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose.

Read gave a positive forecast for Oregon's economy and its capacity to pay for needed transportation and infrastructure projects throughout the state.

"Our credit rating is strong," Read said, noting the state has already sold $2 billion worth of bonds so far this year. "We do a good job of being straight with our numbers."

"There's plenty of need and opportunity for us to embrace infrastructure projects," Read said. "Those projects that increase our capacity are obviously a priority."

Read said state leaders and cities are often hyper-focused on projects or issues that require immediate attention, but noted the beauty is in "the long-run commitments."

He took note of unique economic opportunities in the county's future, as Johnson and Hayes touched on a budding manufacturing and innovation district in Scappoose, and buzz around the potential for new growth at Port Westward.

Johnson, a champion of the new Oregon Manufacturing and Innovation Center and a key figure in securing state funding for the site's development, said Read's office, which acts as the state's bank and oversees bond sales and lending, among other duties, may have a role in the county's future development.

"I want our new Port director to have a personal relationship with the guy with the money," Johnson, who previously served with Read in the state Legislature, said Wednesday.

While the Port awaits a decision on rezoning more than 800 acres in Clatskanie to expand Port Westward, Port officials are already in contact with a company from South Korea eyeing the industrial park as a new site for bulk grain storage.

Hayes said discussions with the Korean company are "very preliminary," noting the Port has made it clear that everything hinges on approval for the industrial park's expansion. The company is also considering the Port of Astoria for its storage and transport needs, but "Port Westward fits the bill a little better," Hayes noted.

The Port of St. Helens may also have another advantage over its coastal neighbor. Hayes' wife is fluent in Korean, and can act as an interpreter or go-between in negotiations when needed.

Johnson and Port officials call the prospective agricultural export project an "opportunity to have a major capital investment" in Port Westward.

Johnson said she hopes to have Read back for a visit to the county in coming months.

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