Photo courtesy of the Port of Seattle.
Council member, Sally Clark; Port Of Seattle Commissioner, Courtney Gregoire and Brian Thomas of Kvichak Marine, at the round table meeting last Thursday March 27.

Decline or renaissance? Stakeholders and policy makers address the state of the maritime industry

March 27 -- Executives from the maritime industry gathered at the Port of Seattle Headquarters round table to talk about policy and the state of the maritime industry in the Puget Sound.

Council member Sally Clark, the Deputy Mayor, Andrea Riniker and the state’s leading stakeholders in the maritime sector were in attendance.

The discussion was held to assist the Port Commission in gathering opinions from stakeholders and policy makers about the nature of economic opportunities and challenges facing Seattle’s maritime industry.

“Growth” was a major question of interest, and the goal of the round table discussion was to walk away with a better understanding of how to facilitate proliferation of the maritime industry through policy recommendations.

Port of Seattle Commission Co-President, Stephanie Bowman, led the discussion and stressed the significance the maritime industry has on the economy of the State and conceded the urgency for the discussion.

Mayor Murray was unable to attend the event because he was at the Wage Inequality Symposium during the meeting, but the Deputy Mayor, Andrea Riniker spoke on his behalf. Riniker reaffirmed the Mayor’s commitment to the maritime industry and discussed how the city is a vital and dynamic part of Seattle's economy.

Brian Thomas, Kvichak Marine, raised three major challenges effecting growth in the industry that echoed throughout the meeting: regulation incursion, an aging workforce and recapitalization of the fleets, and the status of prevailing wage laws.

“Regulatory incursions by our fair city are a challenge to the manufacturing and maritime community. Initiatives around sick leave, initiatives around minimum wage have impacts to our businesses. … While we recognize the need for better income equality and opportunity for people to be able to come up through the ranks and climb the ladder of prosperity that we all think about and talk about – while we are in support of that, we are not terribly supportive of going to a $15 an hour minimum wage in any immediate future," said Thomas.

In the recent maritime economic impact study the average income for workers in the maritime industry was around $70 thousand a year. However, many jobs in the maritime industry are minimum wage, seasonal jobs.

“I appreciate the effort but the speed at which we are moving at makes most of us in business pretty nervous. … When the City steps in with regulations that really get into the heart of how we manage and run our businesses, it makes us all very nervous and uncomfortable, and when you make business nervous and uncomfortable, business doesn’t invest. Business doesn’t try to grow. Business sits back and waits to see what’s going to happen before we make plans for the long term.”

Jan Koslosky, Vice President of Supply Chain Management with Ocean Beauty Seafoods shared a similar sentiment with Thomas.

“We have to have a business environment that’s predictable. That’s essential from our shareholders…and to ensure we have stable results year after year", said Koslosky. “That ($15 minimum wage) is a major concern to us. … Unless there is a means to bring things into some order of sensibility in the wage area, it will force manufacturers like us to consider shifting the lower technical work outside of the city and retain the people in the city who are paid above that wage.”

Vince O’Halloran, with the Sailor’s Union of the Pacific, voiced his support for the wage increase.

“I am in firm support of King County’s efforts to raise the minimum wage. People have to be able to live in order to work here, and I commend the mayor’s office on his efforts in getting stakeholders together to come to an agreement,” said O’Halloran.

“A lot of the people that are working these jobs don’t live in Seattle. They can’t afford it even if we pay them $15 and hour. That’s not solving the affordable housing challenge. … To figure out how to provide people with the right housing at the right time in their life at an affordable point is a really big challenge policy-wise for the City. …It’s one of the bigger challenges as far as how we allow a workforce to actually be here for you (industry) to be able to choose from and employ,” said Clark.

Thomas also said that types of regulatory action such as the Shoreline Management Plan deters maritime businesses and force them to “work like dogs” to make legislation tolerable for business. He explained that by having to divert time and resources, along with the uncertainty during such action, puts the maritime industry at risk.

In addition, Charlie Costanzo, Vice President of the American Waterways Operators, spoke to the regulation incursion issue and mentioned the congressional effort to repeal the Jones Act as an example. The Jones Act prohibits any foreign built or foreign flagged vessel from engaging in coastwise trade within the United States. Stormwater drainage and other water quality issues were cited as examples of regulatory incursions faced.

Opportunities for growth were also discussed. As the work force ages, educational programs that provide training for individuals in the industry are going to have a significant effect on keeping jobs in the area.

“What constitutes a great city? I would offer, that to me, a great city is one that includes a robust middle class. That’s what we are talking about today is middle class jobs. That’s one of the reasons we started the training center at South Seattle Community College,“ said Adm. John Lockwood (Ret.) of Seattle Marine Business Coalition.

Tom Barnard, Research and Policy Analyst at Port of Seattle announced that Ballard High School will be enrolling students in a Maritime Skill and Technology Center program next year. The program is one of thirty operating in the state and part of the Core-Plus Project.

“Even in something as tough in public sector life as public education, it is really possible when we all pull together and have a dramatic impact for the benefit of our companies, our members and our young people,” said Barnard.

Aside from educational programs, other opportunities for growth discussed included the decommissioning of naval vessels through the next 25 years, arctic oil enterprises and the recapitalization the fishing fleet. All of which will provide ample work opportunity for the majority of maritime sectors.

“I feel strongly that there is no question we are and will remain a port city. That’s a good thing for us. That’s a good thing for the diversity of our economy. It creates choices for jobs, and we are much stronger when we are seen as a region that has a strong maritime industry,” said Clark.

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