Chasing Business South

August 2011

In the May issue of Fishermen’s News we reported on the new sandblast and paint booth at Seattle’s Pacific Fishermen Shipyard. The story described a $1 million Small Shipyard Stimulus Funding Grant awarded by the Maritime Administration, under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, for worker training and capital improvements.

The installation of the new, 70-foot long paint booth was engineered to be environmentally compliant under the Puget Sound Clean Air agency regulations for spray painting operations.

Complementing the paint booth is a 16-foot-wide, environmentally friendly sandblast booth, which employs the latest technology for recyclable steel grit with zero emissions to the air and surrounding water.

The yard, justifiably proud of its new equipment and the opportunities it provides, christened its new blast and paint facility with a party attended by local fishermen and city officials, including Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn. Presumably, Mayor McGinn was also pleased to have such an environmentally conscious industry providing 57 family wage jobs and benefitting the local economy.

Three months later, in mid June, the shipyard was forced to lay off 37 of its 57 union employees when it lost two half-million-dollar contracts to refurbish two cruise ships for National Geographic. The company awarded the contracts to a shipyard in the San Francisco Bay area.

“We sell skilled labor,” says Pacific Fishermen general manager Doug Dixon, “and that’s a million dollars in taxable wages and sales.”

National Geographic’s operating company, Lindblad Explorations, is headquartered in Seattle, and has had work performed by the shipyard in the past. The company told Dixon his bid was competitive but the California yard’s location “allows for longer working hours.”

“It would have been less expensive overall to do the work here in Seattle rather than Alameda,” says Dixon. “Unfortunately, they know the issues of doing business in the City of Seattle and they had a requirement to sail on a schedule.”

Dixon says the primary reason the cruise line chose the Bay Area yard is the City of Seattle’s noise ordinance that effectively shuts down all ship repairing activity at 10 pm. “Not being able to work past 10 pm put their sailing schedule at risk, so they chose the Alameda yard,” he says.

Dixon has asked the City to work with him to “bring Seattle back to its full industrial/economic strength and revise our noise ordinances for industrial work in industrial zones.”

With the state of the economy, Seattle and King County can ill afford to chase business away, and those 37 families are looking at a pretty tough summer with the job market the way it is. I wonder how many of them are Seattle voters.