Marine trades grow bigger, stronger

Patrick J. Sullivan, psullivan@ptleader.com
Posted 2/21/17

The Port of Port Townsend is the only government entity in Jefferson County specifically tagged to promote economic development.

Sam Gibboney, hired last year as the port’s executive director, …

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Marine trades grow bigger, stronger

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The Port of Port Townsend is the only government entity in Jefferson County specifically tagged to promote economic development.

Sam Gibboney, hired last year as the port’s executive director, sees 2017 as a year when progress is being made to help port tenants increase their business opportunities.

“We are realigning the way we do business so we can effectively serve our tenants,” Gibboney said. “The port’s services need to keep up with the industry.”

Jefferson County’s economy for more than 30 years has been a three-legged stool, built on the marine trades, the Port Townsend Paper Corp. and tourism. There are an estimated 400-450 jobs on port property, Gibboney said.

“The Port of Port Townsend’s marine trades are recognized for the unique niche we fill in the market,” Gibboney said. “We are known for the quality of craftsmanship our tenants provide.”

Wood, steel, aluminum, fiberglass – structural work, internal systems and exterior finishers – experts are here in every field of marine trades. Plus, there are other businesses spread out in rural Jefferson County that add to the skill set available here for custom and production work.

“There is a huge concentration of talent in this town,” said Tim Lee, former chief instructor at the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding and a shipwright for about 30 years. He’s now a member of Port Townsend Shipwrights Co-op. “It’s kind of mind-boggling.”

Boat owners bring their craft here for any and all types of work, from oceangoing yachts to cruising sailboats or pleasure motorboats to fishing boats that work the wild Bering Sea. Some of the jobs cost a few thousand dollars, while others may inject a few hundred thousand dollars into the local economy.

Port Townsend is an “open yard” where a commercial boat owner, for example, can have his boat hauled, and have his crew do some or all of the work. Economically, that means those crew members are living, eating and shopping here; buying parts, hardware and equipment; and probably hiring a business or independent contractor for specialty work.

The marine trades’ economic impact on the community is not lost on Lee. “The ripple effect is what people don’t see. This town really needs to be aware of what a big part the marine trades play.”

The trades also play into the community’s tourism reputation, in some less than obvious ways. Yes, regattas and the annual Wooden Boat Festival are huge, yet the working waterfront is an attraction all by itself.

“I’ve been hanging planks on a boat, and someone in their car pulls up and eats their lunch watching me work,” Lee said. “Tourists don’t go into a doctor’s office to watch them work.”

Education is a big part of the marine trades, from the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding in Port Hadlock to the Northwest Maritime Center (NWMC) at the Port Townsend waterfront’s north end. The NWMC sponsors its 41st Wooden Boat Festival, one of the nation’s premier wooden boat events, on Sept. 8-10 at Point Hudson.

The NWMC and Port Townsend School District are three years into a Maritime Discovery Schools initiative intended to introduce more young people not just to rowing or sailing a longboat, but to examining maritime career opportunities.

“There is a relationship between the festival, the schools and the health of the marine trades in this town,” said Jake Beattie, NWMC executive director.

It’s not that every student involved in maritime education wants to go to sea or learn to be a shipwright. Maritime education does provide a basic grounding in practical skills and leadership, Beattie said. Plus, there is an unmet demand for workforce training, including emerging sectors in the marine trades, such as electronics, electrical, aluminum welding and painting.

Plans are in the works to enhance the mix of maritime education and economic development opportunities, as this small, rural county does not currently have many moneymaking avenues for young people who wish to stay here. One idea is for a “career bridge” between the public school program and the actual trades, or an entry-level job at sea with salaries in the $40,000 range.

“We need those [students who are] interested to see a career path,” Beattie said. “People look at [Port Townsend marine trades] as being leaders in our field. Beyond all the great stuff that routinely happens in the shipyard and at the maritime center, we are making progress in education and training that will make a big difference.”

(Editor's Note: This story part of Peninsula Proud: Leader Progress Edition, published in The Leader on Feb. 22)

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