Along the banks of the Columbia River, perpetual hums, horns and whistles announce the arrival of quality jobs and economic prosperity for the Pacific Northwest. In the ports of Ridgefield, Camas-Washougal and Vancouver USA, factories, railways and docks bustle with activity.
Unlike traditional ports, these exist primarily to strengthen the local economy. They are regulated and audited by the State of Washington as separate entities, operating under their own charters, bylaws and elected board of commissioners.
“The arrangement allows us to specialize in our business line, which is making investments that further the economic interest of the people in our district,” says Brent Grening, executive director of the Port of Ridgefield. Located in the northern section of Clark County, the Port of Ridgefield has been a vital part of the community for more than 60 years. The 57-square-mile district is home to an estimate 14,000 people. With a property value assessment of approximately $1.2 billion and a prime Interstate-5 location just minutes from Portland, Ore., the once-rural port is transitioning to suburban as private real estate is grabbed up by forward-thinking investors.
Considered the gateway to the Columbia River, the Port of Camas-Washougal provides facilities and services for land, air and water use. The more than 30,000 who call it home appreciate its reputation as a preferred site for commerce and recreation. Nearly 80 hangars await aviators at the 105-acre Grove Field Airport, while the 432-acre Port Industrial Park’s 40-plus tenants employ more than 1,000 with a payroll of more than $27 million. Recreation at the port includes a pleasure boat marina offering moorage for more than 350 boats, a four-lane launch ramp, two restaurants and more. There are also three parks. While the port has long served as a manufacturing hub, its low tax, operations and land costs are drawing the attention of prospective employers along with talks of mixed-use office developments.
“We’re focused on growth and are open for business,” says David Ripp, executive director for the Port of Camas-Washougal. Also in Clark County, the multipurpose Port of Vancouver USA is a regional logistics load center for the transportation network of the Pacific Northwest and boasts marine, rail, highway and air cargo transportation connections.
“The Columbia River is somewhat unique in that it allows the Port of Vancouver to be a deep water port serving international trade and ocean-going cargo vessels,” says Larry Paulson, executive director of the Port of Vancouver USA. The port serves as the west coast port of entry for Subaru and other manufacturers. Its location at the conjunction of Interstates 5 and 84 makes it ideal for truck access, while a significant increase in rail capacity will more than double rail capabilities over the next few years.
While much of the port’s focus is maritime business, industrial property and tenants account for more than 2,000 jobs in the private sector, returning approximately $81 million in taxes to the community. According to Paulson, the port receives just over $9 million in property taxes, all of which goes toward capital improvements and environmental remediation. As for that humming and whistling? It sounds good from here.