Washington State is the most trade dependent state in the country. The state is the fifth largest exporter in the country and has consistently had one of the highest “export per capita” and “exports as a percentage of state GDP” ratios among all states. About one in three Washington jobs is somehow related to trade.
It’s not just metro Seattle that benefits. Every region of the state benefits by exporting or importing something: forest products, airplanes and aircraft parts, high-tech products, computers, computer parts, cars, software. Washington is the third largest exporter of food and agriculture products in the country. In a recent year Washington exported over $6 billion worth of food and agricultural products, with top crops including fresh fruit and vegetables, wheat, and seafood.
And it’s not just Boeing, Microsoft and other large employers that benefit. 7,627 of the 8,480 exporting Washington companies in 2008 were small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), with fewer than 500 employees.
Transportation is critical to delivering those products, whether the destination is China, Los Angeles, or Chicago. The highway and rail network get most of the attention, but ports is where the action converges for trade.
So it is appropriate that the 2011 Washington Trade Conference (Monday, Nov 21 in Seattle) features the session “A Federal Agenda for Port Competitiveness in Washington State”. Speakers include the CEOs from the Ports of Seattle, Tacoma, Bellingham and Moses Lake.
Other sessions will feature U.S. House Transportation Committee Member Rick Larsen, U.S. Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Patty Murray, six other Congressional Members and the Canadian Trade Minister.
But here at TID we’re interested in ports in Washington (all 75 of them) and across the country – and particularly what’s needed from the federal government to maintain U.S. port competitiveness and jobs.
The U.S. still lacks a national freight strategy, much less a national freight program. Congress is trying to tackle that issue; the Senate’s primary transportation proposal (MAP-21) includes a national freight program, and there are several other stand-alone promising legislative proposals in the Senate and House.
Canada got its act together starting back in 2005 with a national freight strategy that is focusing investment and increasing the competitiveness of its ports. The federal initiative is intended:
“to address the infrastructure gap that had developed in Canada over the years, but also to evolve a more strategic approach to infrastructure financing including public private partnerships, and increased level of federal/provincial/territorial cooperation and the development of new initiatives for international and continental trade at Gateways, Corridors, Strategic highways and border crossings.”
Building Canada, the federal government’s long-term infrastructure plan, includes a new national fund for gateways and border crossings, with $2.1 billion over seven years.
The National Policy Framework for Strategic Gateways and Trade Corridors will help guide federal investment decisions. The focus of the Gateways and Border Crossings Fund will be a limited number of national gateway strategies and key intermodal linkages that enhance Canada’s trade competitiveness and the efficiency of the national transportation system. This fund will help support infrastructure improvements at and leading to key locations, such as major border crossings between Canada and the US It will also advance multimodal and technology initiatives that will improve system integration.
(Freight Transportation Infrastructure Policies in Canada, Mexico & the US: An Overview and Analysis, March 2008; and Canadian National Policy Framework for Strategic Gateways and Trade Corridors, 2007)
Larry Ehl is the founder and publisher of Transportation Issues Daily. In the public sector, Larry was Federal Relations Manager for Washington State DOT; Chief of Staff to US Senator Slade Gorton; and was twice elected to the Edmonds School Board.