Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Get Rich Quick

A man and his wife owned a very special goose. Every day the goose would lay a golden egg, which made the couple very rich.

“Just think,” said the man’s wife, “If we could have all the golden eggs that are inside the goose, we could be richer much faster.”

“You’re right,” said her husband, “We wouldn’t have to wait for the goose to lay her egg every day.”

So, the couple killed the goose and cut her open, only to find that she was just like every other goose. She had no golden eggs inside of her at all, and they had no more golden eggs.

-Aesop, circa 600 BC

A hundred years ago, municipal ownership of the Port of Seattle was approved by the voters of King County. Fishermen’s Terminal became the new port authority’s first priority, and in 1914 the facility was christened in conjunction with the opening of the Hiram Chittenden (Ballard) locks, becoming home to the North Pacific Fishing Fleet. The facility was an economic engine, powering the success and expansion of Seattle, bringing jobs and wealth to the area. A hundred years later, Fishermen’s Terminal remains the home of the fleet, but for how much longer?

As we noted in this space last month, the Seattle Port Commission is pessimistic about the future of the commercial fishing industry – especially in Seattle.

Commissioner John Creighton summed up the views of the Port of Seattle when he claimed, “fish stocks are dwindling,” and suggested that spending millions of dollars on infrastructure at Fishermen’s Terminal might not allow the port to be “nimble” enough to generate revenue.

As we went to press this month, Creighton’s colleague, Seattle Port Commissioner Rob Holland, echoed Creighton’s sentiments, suggesting that commercial or residential development would be a better use of the facility. In an email to the Commission and port leadership at the beginning of April, Commissioner Holland said that the commercial property at Fishermen’s Terminal could be very profitable, and “industrial cannot be our only option for Seattle’s future.”

Holland says, “I would like to see our port venture into profitable real estate developments…” and suggested that port property development be “addressed in a way that includes the hopes and dreams of local elected officials…”

Based on the above statements, it’s a safe bet these two elected officials will be happy with last month’s announcement that the largest seafood company based in Alaska, the Coastal Villages Region Fund (CVRF) fleet, is planning to shift the homeport for its 24-vessel fleet from Seattle to the City of Seward on the Kenai Peninsula.

With the departure of vessels comes the loss of income for the chandlers, shipyards, engine and gear suppliers that serviced these boats. Many of these suppliers are tenants of the Port, and with the loss of the Coastal Villages Region Fund fleet comes a loss of revenue for the port in moorage fees.

As this self-fulfilling prophesy plays out, the Port commission tells port tenants they are no longer welcome, which causes tenants to seek more hospitable moorage. As revenues drop, the port commission tells King County voters that the only way to replace that revenue is to develop port land into something else. As Commissioner Holland says, “Ports around the world participate in non-industrial uses and have made great profit from this activity. Why can’t we?”

The answer is found in Aesop’s fable of the goose that laid the golden egg. The Seattle-based fishing fleet remains an economic engine for the region generating more than $846 million locally in salaries and wages, more than $83 million in state and local taxes, and more than $113 million in local purchases. The average annual income for commercial fishing industry jobs related to Port properties was roughly $72,000. As long as the Port of Seattle continues to support the industries that have brought it a century of success and profit, the economic engine will continue to pull the community along.

The real estate market is not exactly booming these days. If the Port of Seattle Commission really believes its future lies in property development, it has missed the boat, by about four years. In those four years, Seattle real estate has lost an average of 28 percent of its value. In the meantime, the commercial fishing and maritime industries have largely weathered the recession. Pacific Fishermen Shipyard’s recent capital investment in a new paint and sandblast facility (see story on page 18 of this issue) is a good example of the direct benefits of the fishing industry on the local economy.

The “hopes and dreams of local elected officials” John Creighton and Rob Holland don’t mesh with the reality of a healthy economy, but more with the lesson taught by Aesop’s fable. Perhaps the Seattle Port Commission should read more of the classics.

FN Online Advertising