Tri-City port officials have assembled an agenda for economic development and now are seeking help from local legislators.
Port districts create opportunities for economic growth and job creation, but a continuing state budget shortfall can throw a wrench into their efforts to win state support for their projects, said Johan Hellman, assistant director of the Washington Public Ports Association.
He was speaking Tuesday to more than 60 people attending the Tri-Ports legislative luncheon at the Red Lion Hotel in Pasco.
To remain competitive, the state has to keep investing in infrastructure projects, particularly in rural areas, focus on freight mobility issues, help local municipal entities clean up toxic sites to prepare them for development and keep small airports open, Hellman said.
A strategic prioritizing of policies will help prepare the state to move ahead quickly when the economy turns around, he said.
But finding money to support economic development will be tough given the projected budget deficit of up to $14 billion over the long run, Hellman said. There could be new taxes such as extending sales tax on professional services, he said. "Ports will watch out."
To take care of the budget and get people back to work will be the priorities in the next session, said state Sen. Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla. "It's going to be a tough session."
Hewitt also said he and other legislators tried to get a permanent source of funding for the Community Economic Revitalization Board, the state's premier economic development financing program. But it hasn't happened, he said.
Ports and other municipal entities often rely on CERB funding for infrastructure development, said Jim Toomey, executive director of the Port of Pasco.
For example, low-interest CERB loans helped the port develop its Pasco Processing Center and helped Richland develop Horn Rapids Industrial Park, he said.
Diahann Howard, Port of Benton director of economic development and government affairs, said new criteria that mandates all private sector jobs created by CERB must meet the county median hourly income has prevented the Port of Benton from applying for grants.
With the inclusion of federal wages paid to Hanford workers in the total wage mix in Benton County, the county's median wage stands at $19.54 per hour, a threshold the private sector can't match, she said. Legislators should either develop a more realistic criteria or get rid of it, she said.
-- Pratik Joshi: 509-582-1541; firstname.lastname@example.org; Business Beat blog at www.tricityherald.com