Since 1880, our fifth-generation family business has been helping Oregon and U.S. exporters transport goods safely through the Columbia River system. We know firsthand that Oregon's abundance of economic advantages, if harnessed in a responsible and sustainable way, will lead to high-paying jobs in our communities. We can either embrace these advantages or lose opportunities to other states and countries willing to grow responsibly to benefit their own citizens. Nowhere has this question presented itself more clearly than in the debate over whether to invest in new transportation infrastructure to export coal through our region.
Over the past 20 years, there have been thousands of stable rural jobs lost as a result of political and legal decisions that reduced the use of our forests for the production of wood and paper products. Those jobs built strong families and strong communities, and they supported a broad mix of businesses that served the mills, the workers and their families. Many who opposed sustainable timber harvests told us that we couldn't use our natural advantages without harming the environment. They argued we could retrain forest workers for "jobs of the future." In most cases, however, the forest jobs left and the new ones never came.
Today, more than 20 of Oregon's 36 counties record an unemployment rate above the national average and many rely on the federal government through "timber payments" to maintain vital government services. In today's federal budget climate, sustaining this sort of support should not be counted on.