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Kitzhaber visits the shipyard to promote ideas for boosting jobs

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

By Corey Paul

Gov. John Kitzhaber picked gritty, growing Vigor Industrial on Wednesday as the place to talk about boosting the state's manufacturing sector and creating high paying jobs. Supporting those aims, he discussed a new bill to preserve state industrial areas and a proposal to provide capital gains tax relief to those who invest in job-producing companies.

The press portion of the event at Swan Island was canned, but the timing and setting were nonetheless salient symbols of progress for a sector that was troubled even before the recession — since 2004, Oregon has lost 13.4% of its manufacturing jobs.

Just a day before the governor's visit, Vigor Industrial completed a complex acquisition of Todd Shipyards in Seattle, which nearly doubles the size of the marine services company, now the largest in the Pacific Northwest. As Kitzhaber repeated one of the sound bites from his campaign — "I believe that to build a sustainable future for Oregon, we once again need to lead in manufacturing" —  business and political leaders stood in the background before a behemoth Naval ship being repaired by harbor workers.

After the brief press conference, Kitzhaber met behind closed doors with executives of companies based in Portland Harbor, allowing them to air their concerns openly.

Among their concerns, according to Vigor Vice President Alan Sprott, is a lack of state attention to the Superfund issue at the harbor, which has loomed as a tremendous expense and liability since the  Environmental Protection Agency labeled the six-mile stretch of the Willamette River an environmental hazard in 2000. Sprott called the Superfund listing "a big giant economic anchor in that part of the city for a long time." Actually, since the governor's last term.

According to Ian Greenfield, a spokesman for Kitzhaber, executives at the meeting were happy to see that suggestions they made during the governor's transition included in the new legislation. Several pushed for more clarity from regulators to encourage investing and expanding.

The governor also outlined in greater detail Senate Bill 766, which he had earlier said would protect high-density industry from the same sprawl that's swallowed high-value farm land. Here's the gist of the bill:

- It will designate "regionally significant industrial areas," which would speed up the permitting process for construction.

- It will establish an "Economic Recovery Review Council" and provide funds for the council to perform expedited site reviews for proposed industrial development. If the state unemployment rate drops below 8%, the council disbands and its funding ends.

Two key lawmakers who support the bill attended the event at Vigor:  Sen. Lee Beyer, a Democrat who heads the Business and Transportation Committee, and House Democratic Leader Dave Hunt.

As for the federal Superfund issue, the governor's office has no firm plan for how the state will address it, Greenfield said. But business owners in the harbor did score a coup recently when the City of Portland backed away from a river plan 10 years in the making that would have created new regulations opposed by industry.

Vigor CEO Frank Foti cited the shelving of the River Plan as a positive step in “the continuing process of building respect for the working waterfront and the industrial workers who are the faces of the industrial community."

Corey Paul is an associate writer for Oregon Business.


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