Commentary | EcoDev

Pioneer Ports Drive Economic Development in the Inland Northwest

Tags: Economic Development, Site Selection, Transportation Infrastructure

Doug Mattoon is Executive Director, Valley Vision, 208-799-9083

The Port of Lewiston, Port of Clarkston, and Port of Whitman County—also known as the Pioneer Ports—are the most inland seaports on the West Coast, located 465 river miles from the ocean in the Inland Northwest. These three ports play a critical role in driving economic vitality in the Lewis-Clark Valley and Palouse areas of Washington and Idaho along the Snake and Clearwater Rivers.

The ports are multi-dimensional, multi-modal, multi-jurisdictional, and full-scale economic development agencies. Collaboration and partnership have been key to their success. By collaborating to create jobs, support entrepreneurs, build and retain businesses, and promote infrastructure development, the ports are creating economic success and vitality for the region.

Measuring Economic Impact

A recent study, completed by Steven Peterson, University of Idaho research economist and clinical assistant professor, quantified the positive economic impacts that the Pioneer Ports have had on the regional economy. Specifically, the ports have created 4,773 direct jobs and $1.1 billion in direct regional spending associated with direct jobs. Every $1 of taxpayer investment creates $5.70 in local tax revenue through economic activities and entrepreneurial firms associated with the Pioneer Ports. The ports create roughly 12 to 15 percent of the regional economy.

The region offers a low cost of doing business for companies that are looking for a site to perform manufacturing functions. Idaho is a Right to Work state and regional labor costs are below national medians. The economy in the area is heavily influenced by the manufacturing sector with a healthy mix of both traditional and high-tech manufacturers. World-class education and training opportunities exist with two research universities and two colleges within 35 miles of the ports.

Expanding Horizons With International Trade

Located at the end of the navigable Columbia Snake River System, the Pioneer Ports act as a natural funnel for commodities originating in or destined for the interior Pacific Northwest states and Canada. The Pioneer Ports are in an expansion mode as they prepare to market their services to Midwest and Canadian business growth sectors. The ports are positioned to offer reduced shipping costs to companies purchasing goods from Pacific Rim suppliers.

The location of the ports reduces shipping distances by 5,000 miles and saves as many as eight days of transportation time for supplies destined for the oil fields of North Dakota, compared to existing shipping routes traveling through the Panama Canal. In addition, a local skilled manufacturing workforce holds the potential of performing value-added services. Approximately 51 percent of the area’s manufacturing jobs are located on Pioneer Ports’ owned or developed properties.

Driving Growth With Expansion Projects

The Pioneer Ports continue to invest in infrastructure and other expansion projects to drive economic growth and prepare for increased port traffic. The Port of Lewiston, located in Idaho’s Nez Perce County, estimates it added $3.5 million to economic development activities in 2014. It completed the construction of a 150-foot extension to its dock, which allows the port to dock multiple barges simultaneously and improves the efficiency and safety of offloading containers and oversized objects. A similar dock expansion project has been approved at the Port of Whitman County’s Port of Wilma in Washington.

The Port of Clarkston in Washington’s Asotin County held an official ribbon cutting last summer for its 130-acre business and industrial park, Turning Pointe Business Park. The business park increases the port’s capacity to accommodate new business opportunities.

Looking Ahead

Looking ahead, the Pioneer Ports will continue to provide vital commercial and industrial infrastructure necessary for the future growth of the regional economy. The footprints of the ports will have lasting cumulative impacts on the regional economy, especially in the role they play in attracting and retaining businesses and industries and in the development of business clusters. Working in collaboration with each other, the future for the Pioneer Ports is bright.






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