Our maritime economy’s human side

Ross Anderson On the Waterfront
Posted 7/24/18

On July 12, 250 or so of community members, press, marine tradespeople, and elected officials gathered in a standing-room-only meeting at the Northwest Maritime Center instead of making merry at …

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Our maritime economy’s human side

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On July 12, 250 or so of community members, press, marine tradespeople, and elected officials gathered in a standing-room-only meeting at the Northwest Maritime Center instead of making merry at Concert on the Docks.

They waited in the room for the unveiling of an Economic Impact Study on the significance of Jefferson County’s maritime sector. For them, this was more important than having fun.

The highlights:

· About 20 percent of jobs in our county are tied to the sea.

· Maritime sector jobs pay $10,000 more per year than the Jefferson County average.

· The Port takes $1M of our county’s property taxes, and the maritime sector made possible by that public investment throws off $12M in tax revenue, $6M of which stays in county.

If the conclusions were obvious and known, the question that no one asked was why the 30 businesses and countless individuals contributed to an effort that paid for experts to put a finer point on the impact the industries of the sea make in our county. “The marine trades feel threatened,” Chris Sanok, president of the Port Townsend Marine Trades Association offered in his opening remarks. The meeting ranged from affirming reports to questions to testimonials.

In the after-meeting hours where sleep transforms hunches into truth, a local official offered his post-meeting epiphany. For him, what the study showed without stating was that strength and success of our maritime sector comes from the bootstrap; local companies that grind it out as part of an eco-system of small companies ranging from single employee “tailgaters” working out of their trucks as a starting point for greater successes, to the anchor businesses who in good times put to work over 50 employees.  Big for here, but tiny in comparison to the monolithic, corporate shipyards whose whistle calls to work multiple hundreds in a single shift. Our industry, like our town, is human scale.

From mom and pop shellfish operations to world-renowned sailmakers and riggers, our maritime industry has faces that we know. The nature of their work might make them better known to the Alaskan fishing fleet than the civic circles of mid-day meetings of Rotary and Chamber of Commerce, but their kids are in our schools, their earnings and taxes benefit the entire county. In a rare moment of public discourse, the faces of the trades shook the sawdust off their beards and Carharts to celebrate in their contribution to the place they live.

The importance to the why varied as much as you’d expect from the rugged craftsmen and women who offered it. For one, it was a genuine concern if his young family (wife, kids ages 4 and not quite 2—all in attendance) could continue making a life here given the uncertainty of the Port. Would there be a stable place in our community’s future for the craftsmanship he and his colleagues crank out in the boatyard’s gravel? For another, it was her hope others might follow the marine trades as one of the few viable paths for the youth of our community to find a family wage job in the place they were born. For others, it was to support the maritime reason they came here in the first place. “We sailed in here in 1966 … and the boat is in the same spot it was when we had it.” Another offered the nip and tuck reality of their business: “When we started we just hoped that we could make enough in the winter to make it through the summer. Now, there’s something of a legacy.”

The coming months will play host to more meetings to determine lease policies, environmental compliance, and other technical subjects that are as tedious as they are vitally important to the future of the blue side of our economy, not to mention the character of our waterfront. Thanks to the efforts of the trades themselves, it’s clear what’s at stake: the jobs that support 2,400 of our families.

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