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Senator pushes to bid to land steek work

 March 17, 2004 Reposted from the Oregonian
   By Allan Brettman

VANCOUVER -- Bud Sherf has kept busy at Oregon Iron Works as a welder and fabricator building bridges, boats and other products measurable by the ton.

But Sherf, Iron Workers Union Local 515 and other employees are excited about the possibility of vastly expanding Oregon Iron Works' workload.

And they will be counting on Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., to help bring home the contract to make it possible.

Murray, as part of an economy-themed visit to Vancouver on Tuesday, stopped at Oregon Iron Works' plant in the Columbia Business Center to tour the sprawling plant and speak to welders.

Murray, seeking election to a third term, will likely face Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Wash., in November.

Officials announced last week that Oregon Iron Works and three other Portland-Vancouver steel fabricators had formed a consortium to compete for a $300 million contract to build the steel replacement deck of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Some 300 new jobs could be created if the group -- Bay Bridge Fabricators -- gets a subcontractor contract from the California Department of Transportation.

Murray said California owes her one.

"California comes to me all the time for money," Murray, the senior Democrat on the Senate transportation appropriations subcommittee, said. "They know I'm very interested (that) the steel used for that bridge is a domestic product."

Murray and Rep. Brian Baird, D-Wash., have encouraged the California Department of Transportation to change bid requirements to improve chances that an American steel fabricator would earn the bridge contract.

Bay Bridge Fabricators would lease 25 acres from the Port of Vancouver and invest $30 million in site improvements if it earns the contract, said Tom Hickman, marketing manager for Oregon Iron Works. The other companies in the Bay Bridge Fabricators consortium are Thompson Metal Fab Inc., Universal Structural Inc. and Fought & Co. Inc.

Terry Aarnio, chief executive officer of Oregon Iron Works, praised Murray's work in a speech to about 30 welders, encouraging them to support her efforts.

"She does produce for us, and we want to keep her there working," Aarnio said.

On her tour, Murray saw a $5.5 million Navy "Guardian" patrol boat under construction as well as a bridge girder destined for a span in Stamford, Conn.

"So basically," she told Aarnio, "the people who work here are the little kids who did the Tinkertoys? I know all about that."

Earlier, Murray told a Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce luncheon audience about the importance of the Bay Bridge bid.

But she also said she was skeptical of claims that the economy is in recovery.

Contracts such as the Bay Bridge possibility would help convince her, Murray said, but unemployment numbers are still too high.

"Because it's an election year, some people want us to think things are going well," Murray said. "So they're calling it a 'jobless recovery.' That's like no-calorie chocolate. It's not the same thing.

"In my book, if we are not creating jobs, then we are not in recovery, and we need to be a lot more aggressive to get our economy moving again."

Murray also said she has a niece who lives in Vancouver who is commuting to a teaching job in Everett because she can't find a job in the area.

"The idea that you would have to leave your family and your community because you can't find a job where you live is unacceptable to me," said Murray, who declined later to name the niece or her husband, who she said was laid off from a job at Boeing in September.

Important keys to spurring the Southwest Washington economy, Murray said, include securing federal money to deepen the Columbia River shipping channel, boosting job training and work force development, extending unemployment insurance benefits, and extending a research and development tax credit.

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