In Opinion

A short twenty something years ago, Roy Randal, a port commissioner who became my mentor, set forth a challenge. When I said we could build a great port, he corrected me by saying, “We can be the great port.” The shift in emphasis embodied the  way  he thought

about the port, the community of Ridgefield, and the baseball players he coached. Roy believed preparation was the key to greatness. Aim high, know what you want, get better every day and work as a team were his constant mantras.

To Roy, greatness was not a destination, but a commitment and a way of working every day. Because he recognized we could never be in full control of an outcome, he encouraged us to concentrate our efforts on a shared vision and raising the quality of the contribution each of us on the port team made toward the stated goal.

Teamwork, community input, basis of successes

I am retiring at the end of 2021 and will pass the baton to the next generation of port leadership. For this newsletter I’ve been asked to look back at some of the projects accomplished during my tenure. But here’s the thing: all the projects I’ve highlighted are the result of teamwork. While I’ve had a hand in these projects, by far the biggest part of each success is due to the scores of other people – port staff, interested citizens, and professionals that made the projects what they truly are – testaments to the values, vision, and teamwork of our community.

The marquee projects we have accomplished together – a freeway intersection, a massive waterfront environmental cleanup, a rail overpass, an industrial park, even completely changing our plans for a port-owned property parcel to make land available for a much-wanted grocery store – are more than utilitarian projects. They’re an expression of community will, values and commitment.

Completed   projects   make   Ridgefield   and north county a nicer, healthier vibrant place to live, absolutely. But in themselves they do not make us a great community. Working together and knowing we can take on and accomplish difficult, even daunting tasks – that’s what makes us great.

A safe and certain rail crossing

When I look at the new rail overpass, I see more than a concrete bridge. I see the result of a small group of citizens who sacrificed an evening or two back in 1998 to prioritize a set of transportation projects in north county. Both the new rail overpass and the Ridgefield 1-5 interchange (rebuilt in 2008), were among the projects and improvements identified by the group.

Equally important as this group’s vision was the commitment that the port and city would work together to bring these projects forward. We were told at the time that projects like these typically take twenty years to realize. The group responded with, “If it’s going to take twenty years, let’s get started.” Vision, teamwork, and a “let’s go” approach became the watchwords. More than a bridge, the overpass is a statement of a community with a public work ethic.

A beautiful, useable waterfront

The waterfront cleanup is another example of Ridgefield’s shared community values and commitment to future generations. Today the formerly blighted site is a community waterfront with public access to a now-clean  river;  it’s a promising development opportunity with reserved public-space all designed to coexist with the national wildlife refuge next door.

What exists now is the result of a 25-year, $100 million environmental cleanup that was led and executed by the port in cooperation with the Washington State Department of Ecology and the people of Ridgefield. The project was technically challenging, financially and politically risky, and one of the largest and most successful cleanups ever accomplished  by  a  port  and  community the size of Ridgefield. It took hundreds of people and thousands of hours to do – but what made it possible was the shared belief that Ridgefield, its people, and our environment were worth the investment.

Commitment  to people environment, financial prudence

Yet, laurels are for others to rest on. The question is what made us successful? What did we learn in doing these and other projects that we can apply to the next projects we chose to undertake?

Among the many things we took from the experience was a firm commitment to the health of our environment and community. The Port Commission now assesses port projects based on what we call the “triple bottom-line.” We evaluate projects on whether they’re good for people, the environment and balance sheet. Port of Ridgefield projects should be statements of social, environmental, and fiscal responsibility.

Community’s economic future tied to pursuing broadband, embracing innovation

Solving problems creates value. Working together not only promotes shared and individual success, it creates and sustains community. Collective action is the essence of community. That’s why the Port encourages citizens  to get involved – the input from you and other stakeholders matters.

Two ongoing projects exemplify the need for continued collective action – community broadband and the IT3 Innovation Center. With broadband, federal policy is at odds with state policy. This unfortunate reality is impairing the Port’s ability to access the millions of dollars in federal funds needed to address real connectivity issues in our community.

Two years ago, the Washington State legislature set a statewide broadband service goal of 150mbps for both upload and download speeds for everyone in the state. However, federal service  standards  lag  far  behind  this desired speed.  Federal money can’t be used to improve local connectivity above 25mbps download and 3mbps upload. Most people, business and schools in Clark County have service levels that meet the federal standard but increasingly require speeds closer to the legislated state standards.

You can see the problem: individually we either accept slow service or pay a significant premium for faster connectivity. Or we can work collectively for a better, more timely solution. Today the local connectivity challenge remains unsolved, progress is aggravatingly slow and the much talked about infrastructure  money will not flow here or address local broadband challenges. Unless voters demand that federal service standards be reset to allow broadband investment in areas like Clark County, broadband infrastructure here will likely remain substandard and expensive-which will impair local education, healthcare, job growth, economic performance, etc.

IT3 Innovation

Broadband is only one way to invest in the success of people. For several years now, we have been working on the port’s IT3 (Innovation, Technology, Talent & Training) initiative. Why IT3? Technological advances and the emergence of Industry 4.0 create an unparalleled opportunity to advance Southwest Washington’s economic performance and relevancy deep into the emerging 21st century.

At its core, the IT3 Innovation Center initiative is community infrastructure.  IT3 supports people, workers, and companies to help them keep pace with technology and outperform their competition. With IT3, technological change can underpin, revitalize,  and  secure  our  economy – which of course will sustain our community, people, and families through time.

The pace of technological change is awe inspiring if not daunting. Every aspect of our lives is impacted – the way we connect with friends, family and work is dramatically different than what it was pre-Covid 19. Automation, artificial intelligence, networked workplaces, and online teams are part of our daily routine. But we’re nowhere near a resting spot – more change and technological disruption is on the horizon.

Economic Change Management

Technological change, automation, and job, workplace and economic disruption are why the Port created the IT3 initiative. If we as a community (individuals, workers,  students,  businesses, civic organizations, etc.) are prepared to meet the ever-evolving needs of employers, then our community will be a place where businesses invest and grow, good jobs are created, and workers will prosper. We will be economically relevant and vibrant both collectively and as individuals going forward.

As Ridgefield moves forward, how we look at the future will shape how well we turn social, technological, economic, and environmental challenges into opportunity – manifested by community sustainability, economic relevancy, and individual success. I hope Ridgefield continues to move forward with vision, a “can do” attitude, and a spirit of collaboration.

I have always viewed the Port of Ridgefield as a platform for great people to do their best work, in, with, for and from Ridgefield. As we face the livability challenges of climate change, environmental quality, and rapid development; the job development challenges of technology, automation, social  and  environmental  equity and inclusion, and a host of other potential disruptions – working together  as a community of intent is the key to success.

Farewell

I thank you all for the opportunity to serve you. For me, Ridgefield has been a great place to live, work and raise a family. The Port’s work – with your help – has been to make it a great place for you and your family as well. I trust that with your input and teamwork, it will be a great place for many years to come.

THANK YOU
To the Commissioners, staff, many friends, colleagues and residents of the Port District, thank you!

Ridgefield welcomed my family and me into the community 24 years ago and it’s has been an honor and privilege to work for you.  I am proud of our community and what we have accomplished together -I’m excited to see what comes next.

Here’s to you and thanks for all your support!

To my whole family much credit is due – so thank you for your patience, insight and perspective.

Let me also especially thank my wife Paige -her support, encouragement, and fierce defense of the public dollar were no small part of our success.

Brent

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