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Knowing the Waters – Changes to the Port District “Economic Development” Statute

By Frank Chmelik of Chmelik Sitkin & Davis P.S. – July 2019

This month’s column focuses on a change to RCW 53.08.245 – the port district “economic development” statute – that expands the ability of port districts to provide workforce development.

Since 1911, the legislature has looked to port districts to be the economic development engines for their communities.  In the early part of the 20th century “economic development” meant development of docks, wharves, jetties and other transportation infrastructure.  Flash forward one-hundred years and the list of “economic development” powers are broad and expanding including cooperative watershed management, trade and tourism and development of broadband infrastructure.  It is, I think, a recognition of the ability of port districts to adapt to a change.

Since 1985, RCW 53.08.245, entitled, Economic Develop Programs Authorized – Job Training and Education has been a mainstay of port districts economic development efforts.  The broadly worded sentence in the statute that noted “[i]t shall be in the public purpose for all port districts to engage in economic development programs” has been the justification of many port districts initiatives.  The statute goes on to provide additional powers to port districts to work with nonprofits “to allow this and other acts relating to economic development.”  RCW 53.08.245 and its companion statute, RCW 53.08.255 (enacted in 1984) entitled Tourism Promotion and Tourism -Related Facilities Authorized are used by port districts everyday to provide creative economic development for their communities.

In 2010 the Legislature amended RCW 53.08.245 to allow port districts to work with nonprofits on workforce development.  However, only non-profits in existence when the statute took effect (June 10, 2010) were eligible.  This proved to be a significant limiting factor in workforce development.

In 2019 the Legislature, working with the WPPA, expanded RCW 53.08.245 to broaden the definition of workforce development and to remove the June 10, 2010 limitation on non-profits.  The revised RCW 53.08.245 took effect on July 28, 2019.  The revised statute is very broad.  It:

  • Expands the organizations port districts can work to include nonprofits, public entities and private entities.
  • Expands the definition of workforce development beyond job training and apprenticeship programs to include occupational training, job advancement, job retention, and occupational education.
  • Expands the reach of the statute to include workforce development for port tenants and “port- related economic activities.”
  • Requires the port commission to pass a resolution that the proposed workforce development “provides a substantial public benefit consistent with the port commission’s economic development goals and is consistent with ongoing worker training initiatives in place in the port district.”

Now if a port district wants to engage in workforce development the pathway is clear and wide.  Port districts can now partner with local employers, governments and nonprofits (likely using grants from the state and federal governments) to undertake “workforce development” including occupational training, job advancement, job retention, and occupational education.  The value to local businesses in a port district could be significant.

Here again, like it has for over one-hundred years, the Legislature has expanded the authority of port districts to provide economic development and economic leadership to the communities they serve.