Transportation, Talent and the Traded Sector

I picked up Metro’s New Look flyer on Jobs & Economic Vitality, and was pleased to read that the Policy Framework leads with “livability has been a major attractor of people, talent, etc.” This cannot be repeated too often, but preferably without yet another picture of our one little container dock, T-6.

Portland is no doubt here because of its port, but I’m not sure that is so much the case any more. While we are a leading wheat, auto and bulk mineral port, Portland is an insignificant West Coast container port…graphics should reflect this reality and not continue to mislead.

Indeed, being a seaport 100 miles up river…requiring two pilots and with limited depth… is not a competitive advantage, and this is a circumstance that will not change for the better. Our airport has emerged as more critical to our economy, especially the traded sector. How much business does David Evans Associates, for example, export via PDX versus T-6? Not to mention Intel and Siltronic.

And, please don’t confuse “traded sector” industries with those that move goods over our docks or roads for that matter. Adidas America’s North American HQ in North Portland represents the kind of traded sector growth we need; they hardly ship a single shoe. Likewise the Freightliner jobs we had better not lose are those at their North American HQ.

No question, Portland retains a substantial manufacturing sector and a lot of that is in the traded sector…there are 10 paper mills within a 50 mile radius…But only value added manufacturing will be around as global competition intensifies.

Like headquarters operations…finance, engineering, marketing, value-added manufacturing require talent, both good operators and imaginative engineers. Since we in this region seem to be adverse to growing talent through investment in education, our economic meal ticket is our livability…it attracts talent. Without talent, the manufacturing sector will dry up, and we won’t have to worry about shipping anything!

Note: several industries cited in the Metro/Port/PBA Cost of Congestion…UPS, PGE, Providence…are not traded sector industries; transportation may be an issue for them, but they are not likely to leave this market no matter, and they don’t export anything.

Back to Talent…Metro’s policies are key to livability; hence to attracting talent. The same ethos that Metro brings to waste management ( btw, why isn’t our garbage on trains?) should be applied to the land use and transportation demands that 1 million new neighbors bring…recycle, reuse, do more with less.

Land: We have loads of land… waiting for economic expansion…now storing private vehicles for free in employment areas around the region; even more are brownfields or subject to that huge financial dis-incentive hovering over Portland Harbor…Willamette Super Fund.

Transportation: except in peak hours we have plenty of roadway capacity even on I-5, and even then a high percentage is discretionary. Going Street on Swan Island and Columbia Blvd., the two busiest freight arterials in the region, are not now, nor are they projected to be, congested in the coming years.

Instead of talking about more money for roads, adding land to the UGB or reducing regulations that protect quality of life for residents, Metro needs to keep livability and the talent it attracts in the forefront of economic development conversations.

Lenny Anderson, Project Manager, Swan Island TMA
Co-Chair, Willamette Industrial URA,
30 year veteran of printing & paper industry

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