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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

Category: Agriculture
June 10, 2013 at 10:42 AM

Seattle’s tight focus on trade

A Cosco container ship enters Elliott Bay. Cosco is the national flag carrier of China, the world's largest trading nation. (Photo by Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times)

A Cosco container ship enters Elliott Bay. Cosco is the national flag carrier of China, the world’s largest trading nation. (Photo by Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times)

The Trade Development Alliance of Greater Seattle held its annual dinner last Thursday. Gov. Jay Inslee was the keynote speaker. I was on a panel with Len Jordan of Madrona Venture Group and Jeff Frazier of Microsoft, moderated by Bill McSherry of Boeing. Major sponsors were Boeing, Microsoft and Highline Community College. Among those buying tables were the Port of Tacoma, the Port of Seattle, the Port of Everett, Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Washington State Department of Commerce. In addition to public officials and business people, attendees included consular officials of other countries.

It was an evening that attested to the power of trade here, and to this community’s interest in the wider world. Both are big advantages. Gov. Inslee promised the state would do what it could to win the 777X, said Washington would “feast at the table of technology” and touted the increase in cherry exports under the new Korean-U.S. trade agreement as well as the 100,000th Chrysler exported from the Port of Gray’s Harbor. Our panel was put through the paces in predicting such things as China’s growth and Middle East air traffic in 2013. I’ve worked in cities and states that only gazed at their navels, measured economic success in the number of new tract houses built. This is far better.

On the other hand, we live in our own bubble. Washington is a net winner from the trade status quo. The same is not true everywhere. For example, a year after the free-trade agreement with South Korea was signed, the U.S. trade deficit was larger and the promised increase in American jobs hasn’t happened.  South Korea is a currency manipulator, too.

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Comments | More in Aerospace/Boeing, Agriculture, Microsoft, Ports of Seattle and Tacoma, South Korea, Trade

May 28, 2013 at 10:38 AM

The Skagit River bridge shows our future collapsing, too

Investigators at the scene of last week's I-5 bridge collapse near Mount Vernon. (Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times

Investigators at the scene of last week’s I-5 bridge collapse near Mount Vernon. (Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times

The Interstate 5 bridge that collapsed into the Skagit River was 58 years old. It was built when the U.S. population was about 166 million and the Northwest was a far-away place for most Americans and much less built up. Hundreds more bridges in Washington are vulnerable.  The average age of the nation’s 607,380 bridges is 42 years. the seasonal mudslides along the rail line north of Seattle, first built in the late 19th century, are a scandal of sloth and aimlessness. Sometimes I think we are living off the investments of previous generations with the obliviousness of the characters in the movie Idiocracy . This would be an excellent time to be repairing existing roads and bridges, as well as spending on a more diverse multi-modal system, including expanding and rebuilding our passenger train system and adding capacity to major freight corridors. It would put people to work at a time of high unemployment, more than pay for itself in long-term productivity improvements and interest rates are incredibly low. Even better if we make our bridges here, instead of buying them from China.

Yet I’m not optimistic that this most recent evidence of our failing infrastructure will be a wake-up call any more than the lethal Minneapolis bridge collapse of 2007. An $8.5 billion transportation bill is bottled up in Olympia. The critical Columbia River Crossing is stymied because some in Vancouver, Wash., are afraid of light rail. In the other Washington, the misbegotten culture of austerity and sequester is making it impossible to do much more than tread water, if that.

To be sure, the infrastructure debate is complex. The United States ranks 7th on the latest Global Competitiveness Report by the World Economic Council. That doesn’t seem to show a nation in crisis, although we did fall two notches from 2011-2012. Boondoggles do happen, although more often on roads and freeways we don’t need than with light rail and transit. Funding streams are distorted and as often steered by powerful members of Congress as by actual need (wait for the federal money to be spent dredging eastern harbors to the detriment of Seattle and Tacoma).

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Comments | More in Agriculture, Infrastructure, Transportation

April 18, 2013 at 9:00 AM

Maritime interests worry about tax proposals

Olympia pays a good deal of attention to lobbyists from Boeing and Microsoft, which is understandable. It’s an open debate whether the tax breaks and incentives for aerospace and technology provide more revenue through job creation and retention than they cost. But do the governor and lawmakers want to take chances in today’s competitive climate?…

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Comments | More in Agriculture, Ports of Seattle and Tacoma | Topics: Maritime

April 25, 2012 at 10:10 AM

I’ll drink to that: Washington wine flourishing

Let me put my hooch, as it were, on the table. I’m a martini man. But I also enjoy wine with dinner and usually try to drink patriotically with a Washington label. So naturally I was interested in the economic impact report by the Washington State Wine Commission (yes, there is such a critter) released this week. (You can download it here). It was produced by Stonebridge Research Group.

The report claims that in 2010-2011, the industry had an impact of $8.6 billion within the state. That compares with $3 billion in 2007. This counts winery revenue, distributor markup, restaurant/retail markup, wine grape sales, tourism, etc. Wine accounted for almost 30,000 full-time equivalent jobs in the state and it and “allied industries” paid $237.7 million in state and local taxes and nearly $305 million in federal taxes. With 11.2 million cases of wine produced, the sector generated $1 billion in direct revenue. The state is No. 2 after California in the value of “utilized wine grape production and in bearing wine grape acreage.”

The number of wineries in Washington continues to grow, from 534 in 2007 to 739 in 33 counties in 2011. Most of Washington’s wineries are small family businesses, as they are in most of the U.S. Vineyards continue to be developed, with grape bearing vineyard acreage growing from 30,500 acres to 35,000 acres, with several thousand additional acres planted in 2008-2009 still waiting to bear fruit.

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Comments | More in Agriculture, Wine industry