Bill Wyatt's State-of-the-Port Speech
by Mark Hester
The Port of Portland's annual Gateway to the Globe luncheon often is a celebratory affair, and this year's event did include the requisite introductory slide show of highlights form the past year. But the annual state of the Port address by Executive Director Bill Wyatt sounded more like a political speech than a business review.
Wyatt quickly transitioned from accomplishments to setbacks, including labor disputes, the failure to reach an agreement for a new Columbia River bridge and the Port's suspension of efforts to expand on West Hayden Island in the face of regulatory difficulties. He then posed a question that helped set up the rest of his comments and hopefully will prompt a little soul-searching by the elected leaders who were in attendance: "All of this has led me to question how truly committed we are to continuing our history as an export economy."
Wyatt sees the Port as one of the region's most important providers of family-wage jobs, an assessment with which The Oregonian editorial board agrees. The manufacturing- and transportation-related jobs at the Port also are some of the best opportunities for Oregon minority workers, Wyatt added. He also pointed out that though located in Portland, the Port is as important to rural Oregon, as especially rural farmers and agriculture-related companies, as to the metro area. Pendleton Woolen Mills and Imperial Stock Ranch were prominently featured in a video presentation of the state's trade history.
Positioning the Port for the future is one of the editorial board's agenda items for 2014, and Wyatt's speech did a good job of framing what is at stake. Oregon's land-use laws, which enjoy broad support and were created for mostly laudable reasons, make it more difficult create family-wage jobs for those without college degrees. Trade- and manufacturing-related employers generally need land, which is at a premium in Oregon.
Can Oregon preserve its natural environment and accommodate economic growth -- at the Port and elsewhere -- at the same time? It's a question worth pondering. Any constructive answer likely will require compromise from business leaders and conservationists alike.
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