In his third visit to Klickitat County since 1999, Gov. Gary Locke promoted his "Jobs Now" campaign at several area stops.
Symbolizing his commitment to "create jobs, spur Washington's economy, and build for the future," Locke participated in a groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday at the Port of Klickitat's new building site at Bingen Point.
Locke, accompanied by several local dignitaries, hefted a golden-bladed shovel to demonstrate the state's support for the new 25,000 square foot light-industrial building under construction at the Port of Klickitat.
The building was primarily funded through the state's Community Economic Revitalization Board (CERB). CERB helps fund infrastructure projects to help boost economic development in rural areas of the state.
After Locke arrived at the Port of Klickitat office, he shook hands and greeted those in the welcoming group of about 30 dignitaries.
Klickitat County Commissioner Don Struck praised Locke for his willingness to offer direct support to the county.
"We feel that every time we've called on you or your staff, you've been there for us, and we deeply appreciate it. You've been wonderful," Struck said.
When Locke was introduced to Port of Klickitat Commissioner Norm Deo, Locke praised the accomplishments he has seen at Bingen Point.
"You must be proud of all the changes," Locke said.
"We're extremely proud," Deo responded. "And we're appreciative of your efforts as governor, and the help we've received from Klickitat County."
Locke said he believed the best way to build a successful economy was to combine public and private efforts. He pointed to the state's Community Economic Revitalization Board as a "tremendous asset" to rural communities, because it has been a conduit to funnel low-interest loans and grants to infrastructure projects across the state.
In 2002, CERB provided a $650,000 loan to help construct the new building, which will be leased to the Insitu Group, Inc., allowing the business to expand. Insitu designs and develops a variety of pilotless aircraft, and its expansion could eventually add more than 30 new jobs.
The CERB money also helped pay for water, sewer, road, and utilities improvements, as well as to create a stormwater retention system at Bingen Point.
The new building is expected to be completed in October.
"We know there is high unemployment in Klickitat County," Locke told the group. "But seeing what you're doing, bright days are ahead for the people and communities of Klickitat County. It's important that young people who grow up in this area have a future here. Keep up the great work."
After the groundbreaking event, Locke toured the existing Insitu facility at Bingen Point.
"The visit to Klickitat County is part of an ongoing `Jobs Now' tour that the governor started back in February," explained Kirsten Kendrick, deputy communications director for Gov. Locke. "On these tours, the governor promotes his capital budget and economic recovery plan to create jobs," Kirsten explained. "He often tours sites that have benefited from state funding and support, or would benefit from his current proposed capital budget. The governor's proposed capital budget supports new private sector jobs at an annual average of 13,400 construction and related jobs during the next two fiscal years, and 11,000 jobs in the following two fiscal years."
Locke's whirlwind tour began when he arrived at the Dallesport airport at approximately 9 a.m. From there, he was whisked to Bingen for the groundbreaking.
Following that, Locke met with representatives of the Steelworkers Union to discuss worker-retraining opportunities and insurance issues related to layoffs from the Goldendale Aluminum plants.
Don Henning, president of United Steelworkers of America/Local No. 8147, said he wanted to talk to the governor about the problems laid off workers are facing, especially regarding the insurance issue.
"Our folks are out of work, and it's hard to keep insurance going," Henning explained. "A family of four is paying about $1,000 a month for insurance. We need to get that down. We're asking the governor to look at this. No one can afford that when they are not working."
Henning said he is seeking the governor's help in building "a bridge" to cover unemployed workers until August, when federal aid is expected to kick in.
Henning pointed out that about 700 people are out of work from the aluminum plants in the area. He added, however, that the help he was seeking would benefit all unemployed workers.
"This would be for everybody out there who has been laid off, not just for steelworkers," Henning said.
After leaving Bingen Point, Locke went to Lyle High School for a question and answer assembly with students. While at the school, Locke planned to promote his program known as the "Governor's Summer Reading Challenge."
The reading campaign was started by Gov. Locke last year to encourage Washington students to keep reading during the summer. He is challenging students to read at least 15 hours by Labor Day.
But creating jobs appeared to be at the top of his agenda during his Klickitat County visit.
"The governor knows that job creation is the way out of the economic recession. Job creation is one of his top priories," said Kirsten. "The governor showed leadership in this legislate session in getting a transportation package passed, which will create thousands of family wage jobs across the state."
The list of dignitaries who joined Locke at the various stops represented an impressive array of political, business, and labor leaders within the county.
Among those on hand for the Bingen groundbreaking were: Klickitat County Commissioners Don Struck and Ray Thayer; Port of Klickitat Commissioners Wayne Vinyard, Norm Deo, and Rodger Ford; Dana Peck, director of the county's Economic Development Department; Mayor Brian Prigel of Bingen; Mayor Roger Holen of White Salmon; Steve Sliwa of Insitu; Dale Connell of Riverview Bank in White Salmon; Jason Spadaro of SDS Lumber Co.; Don Henning of the Steelworkers Union; and Gerry Miller of Goldendale Aluminum Co.
Mayor Holen said the governor visit was symbolic.
"I think what it means is, we've gotten his attention," Holen said. "He and his staff are aware of the dire economic straits in Klickitat County and would like to respond. Whether the efforts work or not, we'll have to wait and see. To expect too much would be inappropriate -- the state is in the same tough situation the cities and counties are with revenue shortfalls. But give him credit for actively addressing the problems here."
Locke's schedule called for him to leave Dallesport at around 1 p.m.