Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Economic growth for Humboldt County based on evidence, not nostalgia.

Building on our rural creative class economy a better bet

By Dave Spreen of TransportationPriorities.org.

The newspaper headline read “Port seen as key to economy” and went on to report that after a roundtable discussion about ways to improve the local economy, the group of College of the Redwoods Administrators and area business owners came to a consensus that “developing Eureka’s port to increase commercial shipping traffic” was the answer.

Unfortunately, that headline was from February 1988 — over 27 years ago. We have spent hundreds of millions pursuing that goal, yet we are basically no closer. It’s not too late to change course, but if Caltrans’ Richardson Grove Highway 101 and the Del Norte Highway 199/197 road “widening” Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA) oversize truck access projects are not cancelled, the international freight “port with rail” dreamers will continue to be a drain on public resources that could be better utilized elsewhere.

Opponents have suggested a smaller scale model. For example, Port Townsend, Washington, where 30 years ago folks there calculated that the train was not likely coming back in their generation, if ever, so they chose to accept that and build on local strengths. The Wooden Boat Foundation was created to attract craftspeople to the Port Townsend area and over time, rebuilt their community. By 2008 the Foundation was serving 150,000 people annually in its educational programs, events, and services at which time the Northwest Maritime Center was built on property previously owned by an oil company. Local and regional maritime enthusiasts, marine trades, local organizations, visitors and thousands of visiting schoolchildren from around the region use the center. The maritime center serves as an economic anchor for the port and community.

Locally, the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District’s list of state and federal legislative priorities for 2015 includes “funding to develop a National Marine Research and Innovation Park,” which, along with the district’s short-sea-shipping initiative represent feasible projects to stimulate desirable economic growth and doable international shipping solutions without massive taxpayer subsidies.

Supporters of an international port with rail and oversize STAA trucking have for too long followed a locally unsuitable economic model that holds that industrial port development must be the primary economic driver for creating jobs and generating income for recreation and conservation improvements. The empirical evidence certainly does not support that model.

As reported in Dennis Mullins’ “Business Sense” column, “... the county continues to add jobs, has lower unemployment than about 40 of California’s 58 counties and is growing entrepreneurs at a faster rate in comparison to other rural counties.” (“Humboldt’s unemployment rate continues downward,” Times-Standard, July 19, Page D1.)

How could this be? Well, consider the newly released study by Department of Agriculture economist Timothy Wojan, which looks at the role of the “creative class” and natural amenities in rural counties’ performances during and after the Great Recession.

From the study overview: “The creative class thesis — that towns need to attract engineers, architects, artists, and people in other creative occupations to compete in today’s economy — may be particularly relevant to rural communities, which tend to lose much of their talent when young adults leave.”

In an article for CityLab.com, Richard Florida writes: “Two kinds of rural counties are experiencing growth, according to Wojan’s analysis. The first are nonmetro creative class counties close to major metros. The second are rural creative class counties that are home to colleges and universities, which are themselves knowledge economy hubs. This proximity effect is likely to become more important, as larger metros and knowledge economy hubs play an increasingly important role in driving economic growth across the nation.” (“The Fall and (Partial) Rise of the Rural Creative Class,” Nov. 11, 2014.)

Instead of turning the Humboldt/Del Norte Highway 101 corridor into I-5 Coastal, we should be renaming it “Redwood Coast Highway” and restricting it to California legal trucks only. Can you imagine anywhere on the coast south of us even suggesting STAA oversize truck access on Coast Highway (State Route 1) would be key to their economic development?

The Times-Standard reported that Humboldt was ranked second best county in the U.S. by the “natural amenities index.” (“Second best county in US,” Aug. 19, Page A3.) When two paths diverge in the woods, you can’t take both. Let’s direct transportation resources to enhance development of our rural creative class economy, not through-route access for oversize trucks in a futile pursuit of unsustainable goals.

Dave Spreen, a Kneeland resident, is spokesman for the Coalition for Responsible Transportation Priorities. For more information, visit www.TransportationPriorities.org.

please add your comments online here.

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More info on successful economic development strategies for rural communities:

www2.epa.gov/smartgrowth/smart-growth-small-towns-and-rural-communities

http://ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/files/thenewcitystates.pdf

www.nado.org/vibrant-rural-communities-case-study-series/

www.sitka.net/Downloads/Small_Towns.pdf

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Notes on development of Humboldt Bay as a cargo shipping port:

While an active shipping port would have once been a source of numerous living wage jobs, modern automated ports create few jobs. Meanwhile frequent cargo ship traffic could seriously hinder commercial fishing, an industry that defies automation and instead still requires skilled workers. Large ships traffic will also impeding sport fishing, a proven source of local revenue (not to mention a cherisher activity for many us Humboldt residents!).

Here's a few footnoted quotes:

...Automation began to significantly decrease longshore jobs in the early 1960, ...the number of employed longshoremen declined from over 50,000 in 1953 to 23,000 in 1967. Since then the number has dropped to under 16,000. The cuts on the West Coast have been equally dramatic. There are now fewer than 10,000 regular longshoremen in all thirty-two ports of the West Coast. ...The loading and discharge of ships now involves ever-fewer humans… ...Longshore work will increasingly decasuaIize and more resemble warehouse or factory work: source

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...“If the port doesn’t automate, it will not be competitive,”

... equipment that moves containers from ships to shore cranes and trucks with minimal human labor. .. The technology at TraPac’s terminal at the Port of Los Angeles is likely to reduce the number of workers needed per crane by about 53 percent, and at transtainers — the hoisting devices for loading and unloading cargo from rail cars or trucks — by 85 percent, according to the Los Angeles Harbor Department report… source

However discouraging the job outlook for many persons “automated” out of work now or in the near future, some students of the problem insist that the long-range employment prospect is not as gloomy as it is often pictured. Assuming that automation will lead eventually to a general reduction in working hours, they point out that the resulting increase in leisure time will probably create new occupations and thus accentuate the established trend toward expansion of the service industries... It has been suggested also that additional leisure time may bring about “an increase in the demand for artists of every kind and for others catering to cultural requirements source

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