Washington is a center of global business, a location that attracted foreign investment supporting more than 92,000 jobs in the state.
More than 8,400 companies in the state exported products totaling $75 billion to foreign markets in 2012. The state's geographic proximity equidistant between Europe and Asia and its sophisticated and integrated transportation network put it in the upper echelon of exporting states. More than 3,600 miles of interstates and highways, two Class I rail carriers and 139 public airports – including Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, one of the world's busiest for passenger traffic and cargo – give Washington the capability to move people and products efficiently.
"There are 75 ports in our state, in 33 of our 39 counties," says Eric D. Johnson, executive director of the Washington Public Ports Association. "A port doesn't necessarily need to be a navigable waterway in Washington. Ports are in place to promote economic development and can be airports, marine terminals, marinas, railroads or industrial parks."
Washington offers 11 deep-draft navigable ports that handle major cargo shipments, from containerized finished goods to agricultural bulk commodities. The ports of Seattle and Tacoma are two of the most active navigable shipping centers in all of North America, and conduct an export business that greatly contributes to the overall economy of the Pacific Northwest.
"Because of our geographic location on the West Coast, Pacific Rim nations are our major trading partners," Johnson says.
While the deep-draft ports in the Puget Sound region, such as Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia and Bellingham, are important venues for commerce, the lower Columbia River also includes major ports such as Longview, Kalama and Vancouver that export such commodities as grain and potash used in fertilizers.
Another example of a key deep-draft port, Johnson says, is Grays Harbor, which exports soybeans and Chrysler automobiles to Asia. It is one day’s sail closer to key Asian markets than any other West Coast port. In all, Washington's ports handle 7 percent of the nation's total exports. Johnston says the state's ports are also vital for importing, as Washington imports many items from the Far East and then ships those products east throughout the United States.
"Plenty of machinery, electronics and clothing we get from China is unloaded in Washington and then transported by rail or truck to cities such as Chicago and beyond," he says. "Washington is the most trade-dependent state in the country, and if good infrastructure for transportation is maintained, we will continue to see major growth in the import-export sector for this state."
Issaquah-based Red Arrow Logistics provides importing and exporting solutions to Fortune 500 companies by setting up truck, air, rail and ocean shipments for products that its customers send to 185 countries throughout the world.
"We work with big-name exporters in Washington to help their businesses expand in overseas markets," says Liz Lasater, CEO of Red Arrow Logistics. "Red Arrow helps companies with advice and logistics that result in the best ways to ship their valuable products, plus we take care of the correct and legal documentation for international customs and regulatory filings."
Lasater says infrastructure in Washington is vital to Red Arrow, which uses a number of high-caliber ground, air, rail and ocean-shipping transport companies.
"We ship cargo that is high priority and highly valuable, so we often utilize transport companies that can handle out-of-gauge, heavy haul and special project shipments," she says. "For example, a company might have two aerospace composite parts worth $500,000 apiece, and we arrange all of the logistics. To accomplish our mission, a good transportation system in Washington is essential to how we conduct business."