by Michael McElwee,
Port Executive Director
This July will see completion of the Port’s 2021-2026 Strategic Business Plan (SBP). Much in the world and in our community has changed since the current SBP was prepared in 2014. Most business plans consider market conditions, reflect on prior successes and challenges, identify goals, and lay out the strategies and metrics to achieve them. However, unlike a private business, the Port’s customers are local citizens. Our goals are defined by our contributions to the economy and the community’s quality of life rather than financial return. Our Commissioners are elected by local voters, not shareholders. Updating the strategic business plan is, therefore, an inherently public process.
For community input on the SBP, an extensive public survey was conducted in 2020. Key takeaways include broad support for the Port’s basic mission, but less understanding about operations and core objectives. Respondents overwhelmingly want a new bridge, one with the lowest toll rate possible, and soon. There was wide support for recreation areas on the waterfront—trails, water access, open spaces, and riparian areas, plus free launching at the Marina. Support was expressed for the airport, but also concern about the impact of aviation noise on residential areas. There was less understanding about the Port’s real estate development role of economic development at a time when housing prices have increased. In fact, affordable housing was the issue of greatest concern to most respondents.
The survey brought feedback on many specific issues and functional areas of the Port. Looking ahead more generally, the Port faces four key strategic challenges in the years ahead. First, our efforts to replace the bridge are making good progress. Our strategic challenge will be to maintain momentum which in large part depends on grant funding, political support and continued bi-state cooperation. Second, with all the positive efforts, a new bridge could be in operation before 2028. At that time, a source of financial support for several Port asset areas, most importantly waterfront recreation, will no longer be available. In coming years, the challenge will be how to continue the services the public values with a much lower revenue base. The third challenge relates to one of the Port’s fundamental approaches to economic development. For decades, the Port acquired (primarily) underutilized industrial properties, provided infrastructure, set public objectives, and then conveyed them to private business. Now, such properties are generally non-existent, expensive and a ready market exists in the private sector. In the years ahead, the Port will need to develop its existing properties thoughtfully to achieve public objectives.
Finally, and related to everything the Port does, connections among the communities in the Gorge and to the larger economy is more important than ever. That means practical things like mass transit, broadband and cross-river transportation, but also good communication and increasing collaboration among businesses, public service agencies and the public. The Port’s Strategic Plan is intended to look ahead and help address these many challenges.