Close friends: distant neighbors: Northwest ports key to Alaska's livelihood.

Author:Bonham Colby, Nicole A.
Position:Cover story

Alaska's position on the map serves it well in times of economic fluctuation. For good and bad, the state is often isolated from trends and factors influencing the Lower 48 economy. Similarly, some might say that physical distance from central hubs of politics, population and industry has created a stand-on-its-own climate of ingenuity and innovation in the Great Land. But when it comes to ensuring the consistent availability of tangible goods, Alaska is reliant on its transportation partners--primarily in Washington State. That reliance particularly comes into play with waterborne transport. Key ports in Tacoma, Seattle and Bellingham all feed Alaska's desire for a predictable, logistical supply chain.


The waterway communities of Puget Sound and Bellingham have long enjoyed their status as a gateway to the North, serving Alaska-bound goods and passenger traffic through the last two centuries.

To analyze the modern-day economic influence of such connections, a study was commissioned in 2004: "Ties That Bind: The Enduring Economic Impact of Alaska on the Puget Sound Region." In its findings, the report suggested that Alaska funnels $4 billion per year into the Puget Sound area alone, creating more than 103,000 related jobs across several industry sectors: manufacturing, fishing, construction, transportation and various professional services. Not surprisingly, the strategic geographic sound and its wide expanse of developed ports serve as the primary hub for southbound goods from Alaska, namely fish, timber and manufactured products. In turn, Alaska serves as the Puget Sound's fifth-largest trade partner for goods produced and grown in Washington State. With cargo consistently flowing in both directions, the north-south partnership continues to thrive into its third century.


Alaska's transportation relationship with the Port of Tacoma is long-standing. A pivotal cog in moving goods north, the port ended 2006 reporting high figures, solid growth, and a new record to tout. "In 2006, the Port of Tacoma set a new container record with 2,067,186 TEUs (Twenty-foot Equivalent Units)--a modest increase of about 4,000 TEUs over 2005's record volume," a port announcement states. Similarly, the port's non-containerized cargo ended 2006 flush, with a growth rate of 22 percent in auto imports and 11 percent growth in breakbulk cargo.

"There have been huge growth years like 2005, and there have been short...

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