Transportation and trade expand opportunities for working families in Whatcom County

Labor and business are coming together like never before to voice support and spread the message that our region is at an economic crossroads.

Washington is a gateway for international commerce. The infrastructure that sustains our position as a world trade leader must be developed and improved to maintain our global trade status. A climate of confusing over-regulation undermines our competitiveness and sends a message to investors that Washington state may not be serious about our reputation as a world trade leader.

Leadership from labor, agriculture, business and trade recently joined elected officials in Bellingham for an event called “Rebuilding the Middle Class: Working Families and Wages in Northwest Washington and the State.” Its focus: creating family wage jobs, providing greater export options for agriculture and bolstering Washington’s economy statewide in an environmentally responsible way. The discussion included identification of transportation choke-points and updates on the benefits of updating and improving rail, port and infrastructure capacity — areas we believe are essential to sustaining Washington’s working families and creating an economy that benefits the entire state.

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen’s participation in the event underscored the importance of trade infrastructure investment for our state and the region. Congressman Larsen joined other elected officials and economists agreeing Washington State is at a crucial turning point when it comes to its economy and jobs.

“My top goal in Congress is to invest in the foundation of long-term economic growth that creates jobs and opportunity in the Pacific Northwest,” said Larsen. “I am working to achieve this goal by investing in our transportation infrastructure to keep our economy moving, developing Northwest Washington as a center for clean energy, and helping our businesses sell their goods overseas and create jobs here at home.”

Labor in Washington state views trade expansion as one of the best possibilities on the horizon for good, family wage jobs. This is particularly important here, in Whatcom County, an area experiencing less economic development and post-recession recovery than the rest of the state.

Labor groups in Whatcom County and around Washington look to elected leaders to take this opportunity to lift up working families with higher-wage employment, made possible by the private investment in rail, port and export infrastructure.

Another key organization joining in our efforts is the Washington Farm Bureau, as well as county chapters from Whatcom County and across the state. As Farm Bureau president and CEO John Stuhlmiller noted at the event, “Next to manufacturing, agriculture is the largest, most trade-dependent segment of Washington’s economy. Failure to invest in growing this sector will jeopardize one of our state’s most prosperous and popular industries.”

The agricultural community represents a vibrant reminder that improvements in shipping capacity must move forward to enable exports of all types of goods, improving our state’s overall economic future.

The “Working Families” event in Bellingham put a spotlight on an obvious and critical opportunity – one that will benefit residents of Whatcom County and the entire state by enhancing our trade and export capacity. In a state where 40 percent of jobs are linked to trade, all Washingtonians benefit from increased investment in a trade-based economy.

Labor, agriculture and business call on those in decision-making positions to consider the opportunity in front of us: Support working families by boosting, not discouraging, investment in our trade infrastructure.


John Huntley is the owner of Mills Electric and chair of the Northwest Jobs Alliance. Brad Owens is president of the Northwest Jobs Alliance and the community affairs liaison for the Northwest Washington Building and Construction Trades Council.

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