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Editorial: We need real jobs, not jobs on paper

Paper jobs. That’s what I call them. Jobs that aren’t actually real, but years before, were predicted to be here using statistical models and analyses. And I have doubts they ever actually materialized.

In 2010, all eyes were on the pontoon construction project in Aberdeen, expected to generate hundreds to thousands of jobs. It was interesting at the time that state officials kept elevating the number of jobs that the facility would generate.

First, it was just a couple hundred, then hundreds and, ultimately, when the state introduced its Environmental Impact Statement for public comment, the estimate of jobs the facility would create during operation numbered 1,875 full-time equivalent jobs during operation and another 590 jobs during construction. That’s a combined 2,465 jobs expected to be generated.

During construction, the facility was estimated to create 250 “direct” jobs, plus another 340 “indirect and induced” jobs.

The facility, itself, was supposed to create 800 “direct” jobs during operation and another 1,075 “indirect and induced” jobs.

Jobs created in an “indirect” and “induced” fashion are allegedly created through the use of contractors, who pay their employees, as well as a trickle-down economics theory that well-paid jobs will spur those employees to buy new cars, generating jobs at the local car dealership and new coffee stand employees and new grocery store workers. But these aren’t guaranteed jobs. These are just jobs that might be created using statistics and economic models. They’re jobs that exist on paper.

It’s interesting to note that the original predictions for “direct” job numbers from the pontoon project were so out of whack that after intense scrutiny and public comment, when the permit was finally approved by the state, the job numbers were revised to show 150 “direct” jobs during construction and 350 “direct” jobs during operation. The estimates for the “indirect” and “induced” jobs also were lowered to a potential 670 additional jobs. That means more than half of the job numbers presented during the permitting process just “disappeared” like the paper jobs they really were.

We can see today that the ultimate job predictions were pretty accurate with about 400 jobs generated at the site at its peak back in the fall of 2012. There are fewer people at the site today, however.

Roughly half of the workers are considered local by the state Department of Transportation standards. But the number could be off a bit because some of the workers have been staying part-time on the Harbor during the weekdays and going to their permanent homes on weekends. It’s never been clear to me in questioning Transportation officials if these workers are considered locals.

I still remember going to an Aberdeen Rotary Club meeting last year where Father Dale McQueen, the rector of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Aberdeen, gave the convocation and had us all pray that “Mr. Kiewit” — a riff on the pontoon facility contractor Kiewit General — would “see the light” and start hiring more locals. The prayer brought more than its fair share of knowing glances and nods from those around the room.

And how many new service workers have you seen? How many new stores have popped up as a result of the pontoon jobs as part of the theory the site would “induce” the creation of jobs? I know one grocery store in Aberdeen closed in the interim so the extra jobs didn’t really help them. I have my doubts the original estimates were upheld.

Last week, Greater Grays Harbor Inc. released preliminary economic information related to the crude oil export facilities proposed to go at the Port. These numbers, like the first try by the state that saw hundreds of alleged paper jobs vanish by the time the permit was approved, has not yet undergone any kind of scrutiny in a permitting process.

The report, created by paid consultants for permit applicants Imperium and Westway Terminals, states that up to 758 jobs could be created by the bulk liquid facility improvements.

Some months ago, I recall an estimate of jobs created at about 50. Then, on a frequently asked questions sheet posted by the Port of Grays Harbor, the number jumped to 100.

The report obviously escalates those numbers by quite a bit.

The report notes that 45 jobs would be generated at the marine terminals and another 103 jobs would be created by rail and marine operations. The statistical model then extrapolates another 87 jobs would be “indirect” and another 68 jobs would be “induced” in the Grays Harbor community. Those numbers are then extrapolated further to show a potential for 231 “direct” jobs and 527 “induced” and “indirect” jobs could be created — using similar models that the pontoon site showed us all.

I have no doubt that, if approved, the oil export facilities will create some jobs. But after seeing the pontoon construction project, its permitting process and the false promises of up to 2,465 jobs that could come about, I’m not quite ready to hop on the oil train and buy into the numbers presented quite yet. Here’s one undisputed fact that both proponents and opponents of crude oil export facilities can agree on: We need more jobs. Grays Harbor County continues to have the highest unemployment rate in the state. We have had double-digit unemployment numbers since 2008. And, although the numbers continue to drop, I’m not convinced that’s because everyone on the Harbor has found jobs. Rather, it’s entirely possible their benefits have simply expired and they are no longer counted in the labor force. Otherwise, social service agencies, including the Montesano Food Bank, would see their demand start to drop — and that hasn’t happened.

We need real jobs, not paper jobs. It’s not fair to give the unemployed false hope that they could land one of hundreds of jobs that may very well not materialize because some economics major runs a statistical model that boosters promote as “jobs, jobs, jobs.”

Steven Friederich is editor of The Vidette. Contact him at editor@thevidette.com

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