Port of Skagit on road to recovery

Economic report notes progress, loss since 2008 recession

By Mark Stayton, September 16, 2014, Go Skagit

Draft results of a new economic impact study of the Port of Skagit and its tenants shows employment at Burlington and La Conner facilities recovering since dropping off due to the Great Recession.

However, some streams of income from expensive recreational activities — such as boating and flying — have recovered only slightly or not at all since 2010.

The Port-commissioned study by BST Associates in Kenmore looked at Port operations in 2013 and was presented to the Port of Skagit Board of Commissioners on Sept. 9.

According to the study, tenants at the Port and administration supported 1,254 direct jobs in 2013, providing $53.4 million in income at an average wage of $42,601.

A study by the same company in 2007 showed a total of 1,584 jobs provided on Port-owned land.

Port surveys of tenant employment recorded total jobs falling from 1,256 in 2008 to a low of 930 in 2012, then rebounding to 1,184 in the first quarter of 2014.

Port Commissioner Steven Omdal said he is happy with the economic progress made since the low point of the recession, especially in providing opportunities for value-added agriculture manufacturing.

Omdal noted that Gielow Pickles started packaging product for distribution in the second week of September, Skagit Valley Malting is gearing up for production and Washington State University plans to build a food lab at the Bayview Business Park.

“We’re seeing employment growing in the agriculture sector,” Omdal said. “We’re pretty pleased with the direction we’re moving now.”

Manufacturing tenants such as Hexcel, US Mower and ImPRESSions Worldwide are expanding at the Port, as well, Omdal said.

Port of Skagit spokesman Carl Molesworth said like many companies that dealt with job losses during the recession, struggling Port tenants updated processes to be more efficient with fewer workers.

“We’re still working at catching up to the peak we saw in the early 2000s,” Molesworth said. “The recession came and even businesses that stayed — Tri-County Truss and Nordic Tug — both of those businesses learned how to do more with fewer people. They didn’t need as many people to be as productive as they were before the crash.”

A high of 1,621 jobs were provided by Port tenants in 2000.

The study shows guest moorage and fuel sales have dropped significantly at the Port’s La Conner Marina, with revenue from guest moorage falling from $140,249 in 2010 to $95,232 in 2013. Fuel sales fell 19.5 percent between 2007 and 2013.

Molesworth said some of this can be attributed to uncertainty boaters faced when the Swinomish Channel needed dredging, especially in 2012. Permanent moorage took a hit in 2008 but rebounded to pre-recession levels by 2012 and dropped only slightly last year.

Sales of aviation gas and jet fuel at Skagit Regional Airport fell over the recession as well — 35 percent between 2010 and 2011, according to the study, coming mostly from aviation fuel. Omdal said the loss of fixed-base operator Via Jet helped contribute to this, and Molesworth noted that hangars around the airport have stayed relatively full.

Omdal cited the challenge of driving business at the airport, but said corporate jet traffic helps support regional businesses like Shell, FedEx and Costco, as well as mechanics and support services at the airport. Search and rescue and emergency fire and disaster responders also use the airport as a base of operations.

“This is a valuable community asset. Having the logistic ability to fly into the community — there’s value in that,” Omdal said.

In other Port of Skagit news, a preliminary 2015 budget will be placed on file for public review on Oct. 15. Staff will present the preliminary budget to the commissioners at the regular commission meeting on Nov. 4, and a public hearing for comments on the budget will follow the presentation, according to a Port news release.

The final budget will be prepared for adoption at a Nov. 18 special meeting of the port commissioners.


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