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
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
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
"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.