Coal Exports Mean Jobs and Trade for Oregon (The Oregonian)
Coal transport will pay off in Oregon jobs and trade: Guest opinion
By Rob Rich
Since 1880, our fifth-generation family business has been helping Oregon and U.S. exporters transport goods safely through the Columbia River system. We know firsthand that Oregon’s abundance of economic advantages, if harnessed in a responsible and sustainable way, will lead to high-paying jobs in our communities. We can either embrace these advantages or lose opportunities to other states and countries willing to grow responsibly to benefit their own citizens. Nowhere has this question presented itself more clearly than in the debate over whether to invest in new transportation infrastructure to export coal through our region.
Over the past 20 years, there have been thousands of stable rural jobs lost as a result of political and legal decisions that reduced the use of our forests for the production of wood and paper products. Those jobs built strong families and strong communities, and they supported a broad mix of businesses that served the mills, the workers and their families. Many who opposed sustainable timber harvests told us that we couldn’t use our natural advantages without harming the environment. They argued we could retrain forest workers for “jobs of the future.” In most cases, however, the forest jobs left and the new ones never came.
Today, more than 20 of Oregon’s 36 counties record an unemployment rate above the national average and many rely on the federal government through “timber payments” to maintain vital government services. In today’s federal budget climate, sustaining this sort of support should not be counted on.
Oregon exports billions of dollars worth of bulk commodities every year. It’s a unique advantage we have that keeps thousands of our citizens employed in jobs that pay wages higher than other jobs disconnected from exporting. A recent study on international trade conducted by the Portland Business Alliance showed that jobs connected to international trade pay 9 to 18 percent more than jobs solely catering to local customers. Why does this matter? Because Oregon relies on income taxes for government revenue. So, the more money our workers make, the more we’ll have available for teachers, firefighters and other public sector workers.
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, last year Oregon safely exported $2.6 billion in agriculture commodities, $1.6 billion in chemicals and more than $200 million in petroleum and coal products. And there is opportunity for growth. Substantial investment in our export infrastructure will bring thousands of new jobs to Oregon, many in areas of the state that are suffering from unemployment and declining school and public safety budgets. These workers will construct port facilities, barges and rail infrastructure and then operate the equipment necessary to keep goods moving through the region.
Importantly, many small businesses will supply the goods and services to make this happen. That’s why the Oregon chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business supports building coal export terminals.
Oregon wins when it exports. It’s our advantage, and we should focus on strategies that allow us to safely expand our commodity capacity and create thousands of jobs for our fellow citizens. As our rural counties can attest, failing to utilize our economic advantages can negatively affect an entire generation of Oregonians.
Rob Rich is vice president of marine services for Shaver Transportation Co., based in Northwest Portland.
See article here.