Ports as Engines of Economic Development

Our Port has done a great job in building and maintaining a great local airport, but now we need to expand it focus and use its economic development powers. We need to work creatively to stabilize Lopez’s economy ​and ​grow our work force. We are not talking any big developments on Lopez—we are talking about meeting basic needs that private business cannot meet.

The biggest problems we have now are a lack of decent paying jobs and affordable housing.

We just need a few year-around businesses to help on jobs and a few apartment or town house buildings to help solve the residential shortage. Right now, families are having to leave the island because there are not enough good paying jobs. Three Lopez school teachers were moved out of their rentals this summer so the owners could rent short term to vacationers. UW is going to have big problems finding living accommodations for the additional clinic staff it plans to hire.

Currently, t​he Port is the only Lopez entity that has the potential capacity to deal with these issues. ​In fact,​​ ​Port authorities are the only public entities specifically created to do that.


Washington’s ports have a crucial mandate: ​Job ​Creation.

A port district is uniquely capable of creating economic growth and increasing the number of family-wage jobs in a community, because of the specific authorities granted by the legislature.

Our ports create jobs and economic growth in many diverse ways. They own and operate shipping terminals, marinas and docks, airports, industrial sites, railroads, and parks and recreational facilities. Some ports operate in all of these sectors, others in only one or two, but almost every Washington port pursues an aggressive program of economic development.

These programs include industrial development, infrastructure development, import/export assistance, tourism, and entrepreneurial development. Ports are willing to invest for the long-term in their communities. Ports often make significant investments in infrastructure – building facilities that will eventually house profitable businesses that reinvest in a community. But before that growth can happen, the dollars have to be invested and the risk taken by an agency willing to spend today ​for future returns.​

Specifically, ports have the authority to:

  • Develop marine terminals, airports and other facilities for handling cargo and accommodating passengers
  • Buy and improve pieces of property for lease – or sometimes to sell – to private industry for industrial and commercial uses
  • Provide air and water pollution control facilities
  • Operate trade centers and export trading companies
  • Establish and operate foreign trade zones
  • Provide environmental enhancement, protection and public access
  • Build and operate or lease out marinas and related facilities and provide public boat ramps for public use
  • Promote tourism as an economic stimulus within the port district

—Excerpted from publications​ of the Washington Ports Association


Ports provide the public a direct way to own and manage important community assets such as waterfront land and airport facilities.

Ports are also the only public agency whose primary mission is to promote economic development, and with it businesses and jobs.

The ​development ​formula for Washington’s public ports has been consistently successful: public investment (when private investors cannot or will not provide financing) equals competitive facilities, which generate direct and secondary employment, revenue, and taxes for further development of a community

Washington’s small port districts have been amazingly creative in reviving depressed small town economies. We have lots of talent and business know-how on Lopez: we can do the same thing.​

Here​ are​ current ​example​s​ where small Port seed money paid big dividends​ (as a comparison Lopez Island has 2065​ registered voters):

Artisan Food Center

Port of Columbia ​is located in Dayton, WA (near Walla Walla) and has 2562 registered voters.

The Port of Columbia​ serves as the lead economic development agency for Columbia County and offers assistance to all businesses in the county. The onset of the Great Recession in 2008 forced many businesses in downtown Dayton to close. In an effort to kick-start the recovery effort, the Port of Columbia pursued a commercial kitchen and shared food processing space under suggestion of the Washington Public Ports Association. The port purchased 28 acres of farmland, and constructed the Artisan Food Center (AFC), the first building at the Blue Mountain Station food processing park. The AFC features five rentable bays and one commercial kitchen. The rentable bays have permanent tenants, and the commercial kitchen is available for reservations by the hour.

The permanent tenants have complementary access to freezer and refrigeration space in the commercial kitchen, and some rent the kitchen space themselves. Any member of the public, in Dayton or any surrounding community, can rent the commercial kitchen​.​Regular patrons include a baker, a soup maker, and a local winery who uses the commercial dishwasher and sanitizer to clean its tasting glasses. Tenants of the rentable bays include a cheesemaker, coffee roaster, candy maker, and a distiller. One tenant approached the port about starting a weekly farmer’s market, which is now hosted at the AFC every Saturday.

Tenants and three local Walla Walla farmers come to sell their wares. Sales have been so strong that two of the tenants have opened businesses in downtown Dayton. The Blue Mountain Station development has had a significant impact in revitalizing downtown Dayton. Further, existing resident demand for organic, locally-made products is fulfilled and grown within Dayton as opposed to outside the district.

All five bays at the AFC are currently rented, and the Port recently partnered with a private developer who plans to build a second, 6,000 square-foot building.

Industrial park, barge service, internet service, commercial building, and RV park

The Port of Garfield is located in Pomeroy, WA and has 1553 registered voters.

The Port works to stimulate economic development in Garfield County both on its own initiative and by forming partnerships with local businesses and economic development organizations. For example, in 2006 the Port joined with the City of Pomeroy, Garfield County, and the Palouse Economic Development Council to make wireless and DSL internet available throughout Garfield County in an effort to stimulate economic development in the region. Explains Lora Brazell, manager of the Port of Garfield, “Being a small port, we’re easy to work with. We can get the permitting process and building permits more quickly, and we work together with the city and county as a team to bring businesses in.”

The Port District has four main sites: DSP (Industrial buildings and commercial sites); Central Ferry (grain barge service); the U.S. Forest Service Building’ and the Pataha Creek RV Park.

Marina, rental cabins, RV parks, campgrounds, & incubator building

Port of Cathlamet​ is located in Wahkiakum County (SE WA) and has two port districts and 3008 registered voters.

​This small county supports two port districts. District #1’s main focus is the 300 slip marina it has developed along with boat servicing facilities, rental cabins,​ RV and tent sites. It also developed an Incubator Building for startup businesses. District#2 has ​​developed two RV parks and a public waterfront park. Both districts have full-time managers and staff.

Business parks, commercial property, public boat launches/docks​

Port of Skamania County ​is located on the Columbia (near Hood River, OR) and has 4,622 registered voters.

Since its formation in 1964, the Port of Skamania County has served as an economic catalyst for community development that enhances the livability of the area. The Port is governed by a three-member Board of Commissioners​ responsible for representing public interests, setting Port policy, determining program direction, setting long and short range goals, approving the annual budget, and evaluating and guiding the Port activities. This planning and oversight process involves the Port Commission, the Port Executive Director, staff, and citizens. Port districts are municipal corporations; however, unlike cities and counties, ports are “special purpose districts.” Public ports have expanded roles in how they conduct business, allowing them to act quickly to opportunities that foster economic growth​.​

Presently, the Port is managing​ two business parks with 16 tenants​;​ commercial acreage with 42 acres commercial and 20 acres of waterfront​;​ a public ​b​oat launch and dock​s​.​ It partners with the ​Skamania County Economic Development Council :

Partner Testimonial: Port of Skamania County

“The Port of Skamania County and the EDC have worked together for many years developing and maintaining a long-term strategic plan for meeting the economic growth in Skamania County. The EDC has been a vital partner in helping the Port obtain funding for critical infrastructure development needed to support recent business expansion at the Port—this has resulted in retention and creation of dozens of good paying jobs.”

Private railroad

The Port of Pend Oreille is located in Usk, WA and has 8,829 registered voters.

​When the Burlington-Northern Railroad abandoned the railroad track in the County in 1979, it created a huge transportation issue for local businesses.
To save jobs and its local economy, the ​Port of Pend Oreille ​was formed to acquire the track and equipment and ​operate the Pend Oreille Valley Railroad. T​he​ Port ​Commissioners appointed an Administrative Team which consists of a Manager, Roadmaster, and Chief Mechanical Officer to manage all operations and finances.

The Port owns 61 miles of track in Washington​ and​ leases 24 miles of track in Idaho. The Railroad has​ developed​ many customers ​and ​interchanges with the Burlington Northern at Sandpoint, Idaho to ship and receive cars from the Burlington Northern and Union Pacific Railroads. In addition to operating the railroad, it ​has expanded to provide​ freight/shipping services​;​ rail​ ​car storage​; and ​locomotive ​​repairs ​&​ ​​painting​.

It generates over $2 million in revenue per year, has over $6 million in assets, and employs 15 full-time employees.​ The Port ​is consistently profitable, self sustaining, and ​does not levy or collect any real or personal property t​axes​.