All of Oregon needs to share in prosperity. When I was beginning my career, I never worried about being able to find work in Coos Bay. Southwestern Oregon offered opportunity and hope for its residents, and our vibrant and thriving rural communities were well supported by bustling manufacturing and maritime trade. Storefronts and restaurants in the downtown area were filled with people making a life for themselves and their families. At that time, the Port of Coos Bay saw an average of 300 vessel calls per year and was the largest timber port in the world.
The fall of the timber industry starting in the 1980s began a slow downward march that inherently changed the fabric of our economy, and subsequently, our quality of life. Our community has endured four decades of economic turmoil, which has led to job loss, family disintegration and social challenges. Our residents are afflicted with generational poverty, stemming from a lack of hope and opportunity.
Inability to recover economically has led to a sharp decline of the middle class in southwestern Oregon. When I attended Marshfield High School, there were over 2,000 students in attendance. By 2017, that number had dropped to just over 1,000. The overall population of the area has stayed almost identical to the 1980s, but the demographic has shifted dramatically, with young families leaving the area in search of opportunity and retirees moving in because of its natural beauty.
Our region needs a change. We have fallen far behind Oregon’s metro areas, which have enjoyed significant investment from industry powerhouses like Intel, Columbia Sportswear, Nike, Adidas, Amazon and UnderArmour. The plight of rural Oregon is real, and our rural communities are slipping further and further behind.
However, Coos Bay has a chance to begin to redefine its economy through the Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas project. Although not a panacea, this project is the first step in rebuilding the economy and culture of our region. Jordan Cove LNG would bring a $10 billion investment in rural southwestern Oregon, meaning thousands of construction jobs and hundreds of permanent high wage jobs. Jordan Cove would serve as a catalyst for resurgence of maritime employment in our area, providing opportunities for tugboat companies, ship chandlers, stevedores, longshoremen and pilots. These are high-paying jobs that will support a rebirth of our middle class and increase school populations.
In terms of what Jordan Cove means for our port community, the impact would be transformative. Currently, approximately 60 ships call at our port each year. Jordan Cove is expected to bring an additional 120 vessel calls per year, each representing $1.3 million in economic impact. The volume of product currently shipped through the Port of Coos Bay is 1.9 million metric tons, according to the Pacific Maritime Association. Jordan Cove would bring another 7.8 million metric tons, which would come close to qualifying the Port as a “high use energy port.” This distinction, set by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, provides priority for annual maintenance dredging and investment in maritime infrastructure. Such an investment in infrastructure in the region would deliver a much-needed injection to the entire transportation system and has significant potential to spur future economic development.
Local and state representatives have an opportunity to facilitate fair permitting processes by articulating and following requirements for approval. Our region wants to do its part in the state’s economy and to enjoy the same type of prosperity and hope as our metro counterparts. We are not asking our state and local regulatory bodies to push Jordan Cove through its permitting processes, but rather to move through permitting processes in a fair, objective and timely manner. We are asking for a fair opportunity for Southwest Oregon to thrive again.