Jay Waldron, attorney, Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt
regon's approach to clean technology continues to reap benefits. Seattle's transit-friendly approach to industrial development is paying dividends. In 2008, Washington led all states by a healthy margin in renewable energy generation, producing 22 percent of the U.S. total. And the region continues to boast a healthy portfolio of energy projects in general.
The powerful current running through all of the above is environmental awareness: the region's unique way of living and working; efficient transport and logistics; the direct influence of water and power access, quality and volume on an industrial operation; the grandeur of the landscape itself.
Can this translate into economic development success? One clue is the number of facility projects serving the needs of service providers, such as the architecture, engineering and construction firms themselves. Among the largest is Seattle's McKinstry, which is adding 100 people to its payroll as it moves into a new 120,000-sq.-ft. (11,148-sq.-m.) headquarters, which will also be the home of the McKinstry Innovation Center, an incubator for clean technology companies. In 2009, McKinstry was one of 16 service companies to receive a United States Department of Energy Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) Energy Savings Performance Contract that could result in up to US$80 billion in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and water conservation projects at federally owned buildings and facilities. The 10-year contract is worth up to $5 billion. The firm expects to add several hundred more employees over the next few years.
In Portland, leading national LEED-design developer Gerding Edlen continues to grow and to participate in such projects as the Oregon Sustainability Center, and Ziba Design has moved into a spectacular new 56,000-sq.-ft. (5,202-sq.-m.) headquarters in that city's hot Pearl District.
When it comes to environmental awareness, the Pacific Northwest is the Europe of the United States. As corporations dealing with the EU know all too well, that can be a mixed bag. But some don't buy the traditional party line when it comes to the corporations' perspective on environmental regulation.
"Given the way the world is now, the environmental regulations here, which are no more onerous than in Atlanta, I think have become a very positive thing for business," says Jay Waldron, a shareholder in leading regional law firm Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt, and a respected veteran of environmental law practice. "I think businesses should view the environmental and regulatory climate of Oregon and Washington as fair and efficient and a place they want to be. I have watched Oregon and Washington go from being regarded as 'out there' to become the national norm, and the envy of most places. So there's a benefit to environmental regulation — it's what makes this place so livable, and environmental regulation is very mature out here."
Don Krahmer, co-chair of Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt's Technology and Business Practice, says in some respects the unemployment rate in the area is relatively high, "but a large percentage of that is inbound younger folks. Part of our focus is on how we create the jobs to put that young talent pool to work."
"I'm sitting here in my law office conference room," says Waldron, "and out one window I can see an 11,000-foot mountain with skiers. Out the other side I see, less than 45 minutes away, wine country comparable to Napa. Straight down I see light rail, to be extended to every area of the region. The only negative thing I see is too many young unemployed people outside my window right now."
The firm is doing its part, and in an area that is indicative of the region's technological innovation rate.
"In the middle of the recession, all law firms are either reducing staff or lawyers," says Waldron. "Our intellectual property group, one of the largest in the Northwest, is booming. Our patent and technology work couldn't be doing any better, which is surprising in this recession."
Both Oregon and Washington have recently launched reorganizations of their state departments of commerce. Waldron says it's been a long time coming, and is a welcome improvement.
"Both departments tried to combine business with community development," says Waldron, "which are the same on paper, but not the same practically. Both got bogged down in the day-to-day hard slog of community development. The reorganization is great for business. Both states have a department now that can focus on attracting business, on tax incentives, on finding loans and developing partnerships with universities, while their sister department can focus on community development."
With the Grain
Waldron just finished six years of service as president of the Port of Portland. In addition to being the largest automotive import site on the U.S. West Coast, the Portland harbor exports the largest volume of wheat in the United States. The Columbia River is the third largest grain-exporting center in the world.
Soon even more grain will be leaving North America through the region, thanks to a $200-million terminal from EGT Development, a joint venture of Bunge North America and Itochu, to be located at the Port of Longview, Wash.
"Bunge was looking for a location in the Pacific Northwest in order to serve the growing Asian market," says Deb Seidel, spokesperson for Bunge North America, the majority partner in the joint venture. "We looked at a number of locations, but Longview was the best fit."
Bunge operates about 450 industrial facilities on four continents, including grain elevators, oilseed processing plants, corn and wheat mills, packaging facilities and ports facilities. Bunge and Itochu also are partnering on a project in Brazil.
Scheduled to open in time for the 2011 harvest, the Longview project had been pursued for some three years, and came about thanks in part to state and local support, crucial new rail and portside infrastructure, some creative real estate work and the long-term vision of port officials, who are just completing a channel deepening project that began in 1988. The final piece came into place in February 2009, when the port was able to set aside condemnation proceedings and come to an agreement with RSG Forest Products to acquire the final six-acre (2.4-hectare) piece of the parcel needed for the terminal.
The project is the first export grain terminal to be constructed in the U.S. in 25 years. Seidel says that in addition to new-generation conveying equipment and new design elements to minimize grain dust risk in confined spaces, the project "addresses a major trend in the rail industry, which is moving to 110-car shuttle trains for grain, oilseeds and grain/oilseed by-products. This facility has enough rail infrastructure to hold four unit trains at any given time."
A $21-million industrial rail corridor came online in early 2005 at the port, enabling connection to main lines from Union Pacific and BNSF, and facilitating the uninterrupted flow of complete unit trains.
"The development was important to bringing the project to Longview because it allows unimpeded rail traffic to and from the location, improving efficiency while minimizing impact to the local community," says Bunge's Seidel.
The facility will also unload grain barged via the Columbia River, and will be able to process around eight million tons of grain every year, including wheat, soybeans, corn and by-products.