Maritime leader: Preserve Seattle’s maritime and industrial base; reconciling the “experiential” and the “working” cities

Seattle’s technology ascendency is beyond dispute. The metro area routinely ranks among the top tech centers in the nation. It’s a fact to be celebrated. Yet, it’s also one that occasionally pits sector against sector. Washington Business, the quarterly magazine published by the Association of Washington Business, recently looked at how development pressures threaten Seattle’s working waterfront.

In the Seattle Times, Jordan Royer, a vice president with the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, writes that city can maintain both a healthy maritime and industrial sector and a thriving technology hub. In his view, the challenge involves reconciling the demands of the “experiential” city with those of the “working” city.

To some, the role of the city is what I call “experiential.” Here, the tech industry dominates. Industrial and maritime companies come under pressure to move out. Residential, restaurant and entertainment venues vie to reoccupy their spaces.

The problem is that the railroad tracks and yards, docks, overpasses and roads that facilitate trade and industry — the billions of dollars of infrastructure developed over years through public-private partnerships — are not easily moved.

The good news is that regional leaders recognize the potential conflicts are are acting to resolve them.

The Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC), made up of elected officials throughout Puget Sound, is the planning entity tasked with focusing growth in 32 urban-growth centers in the region. It also designates the MICs. The goal, through regional planning, is to make sure both the “experiential” and the “working” city can thrive.

It’s not just a Seattle issue, as a port leader told AWB.

“Washington state is blessed with a tremendous heritage of working waterfronts. They exist all over the state,” says Eric Johnson, executive director of the Washington Public Ports Association.

“There is hardly a community on the water that doesn’t have some sort of interaction with productive employment on the waterfront. Whether it’s boatbuilding, fishing, stevedoring, longshoremen, freight forwarding … all of it.” Yet, he adds, “In many communities we’re seeing pressure from gentrification, unsympathetic local elected officials, people protesting the kind of cargo being shipped.” 

We went further in our foundation report, noting the critical role of shipping and working ports to the state economy. It’s at the heart of our Connect priority.

From the wheat farmers of the Palouse to the winemakers of the Columbia Valley, our state’s agricultural industry needs to get its products to markets along the Pacific Rim and around the world. Manufacturers must efficiently move materials and components to their factories and finished goods to their customers. Businesses of all stripes and sizes rely on their employees getting to work on time, and families travel on our roads and bridges to get to school, health care, and recreation

Royer frames the question clearly.

A PSRC study on industrial lands found the annual earnings from industrial jobs averaged $80,000 in 2012. By comparison, the average wage across central Puget Sound in 2012 was $59,700…

Shouldn’t the role of the city be, at least in part, to support the people who work in these jobs? Is there room here for both the experiential and the working city?

Regional planning can sometimes lead to regulatory tension, as we’ve written. Yet as Royer concludes, this need not be a case of either/or. There’s plenty of room in Seattle and in the state for the kind of shared prosperity that enables the experiential and the industrial to thrive.