This post will take more of the form of an editorial than any sort of detailed rundown of recent events here in Corruption Capitol, U.S.A. Instead, I want to explore and expound on the whole mill town mentality that has, in my opinion, played a huge part in making Port Angeles into the ugly, dysfunctional and economically struggling place it is.
Now, we all know that, back in what some still wistfully refer to as “the good old days,” there was more than one mill in Port Angeles. And at that time, it really was possible for a guy (almost always a guy) to drop out of school, get a job at a mill, and do alright financially.
Of course, “the good old days” are long, long gone, but that mentality still lingers on – and on – even in the face of overwhelming evidence that the past is past, and is never coming back. (Don’t take my word for it – ask Grant Munro. He doesn’t want to create mill or finished wood product jobs here. He just wants to export raw logs to China while you “pound sand.”)
As the number of mills dwindled down, and mill jobs became rarer and rarer, they also became more and more iconic to some of the local population, including so-called local leaders who should know better. Nippon has always been cagey with releasing the number of employees they have, but it seems to hover somewhere south of 200 people. This number then causes City Council and Chamber members to sing the praises of Nippon for employing “so many” people. They get treated as though they were absolutely the number one local employer.
But the County employs more people than Nippon. So does the City, and OMC, and Westport, and Safeway, and probably even the Jamestown tribe, among others. Ah, but none of those jobs are mill jobs, so they seem to count less, if at all. And so again, our business and political community can’t sing Nippon’s praises high enough.
“Nippon is a local business!” says Cherie Kidd. “People will absolutely come to our new waterfront to watch the Nippon smokestack!” says Russ Veenema. “Government jobs give you cancer, but particulates are actually good for your health!” says Dick Pilling. “Yes to all of that!” says Steve Tharinger. “I will gladly do the heavy lifting on tax breaks for Nippon!” And on and on and on.
This not only shortchanges many other local businesses and employers for their sizeable contributions to Port Angeles, but also creates all sorts of crazy, illogical situations that end up costing you money.
Situations like, say, the late PenPly. You remember that little blip on the business radar, don’t you? If not, you should, because you are probably still paying off the debt they left behind.
Would you trust this man with YOUR money?
When Josh Renshaw first floated the idea of restarting what became the PenPly mill, it was laughable from word one, an idea that was almost certain to fail. First, Renshaw had never actually run a mill. Two, he found very, very few private investors willing to pony up funds for the idea. Perhaps this was because the equipment in the mill was all incredibly old and out of date.
This lead to yet another ominous sign: The Port, always a fan of crackpot ideas, was enthusiastic about Renshaw’s proposal. So they offered him deferred rent and all sorts of other freebees and inducements. Then came the State grants, loans and freebees. By the time it was up and running, PenPly was flush with (mostly government) money, had artificially low expenses, and the support of almost the entire Clallam County political community, including the anti-government right-wingers.
Government handouts are GOOD if you're running a mill, right?
But they still couldn’t make a go of it. Even with all those benefits and all that help.
It was such a fiasco so quickly, that it wasn’t long before PenPly was in arrears on their City utility bills to the tune of almost $200,000. So, digging themselves in deeper, the City spent staff time (which equals money, remember) to apply for and get another State grant for PenPly, in the amount of $500,000. Only Max Mania spoke up to say this was a bad idea, and the City handed over the money to Josh Renshaw.
All this last infusion of cash did was allow PenPly to limp along a little longer – just long enough to run their utility debt to the City up over $300,000 before it all came crashing down.
No long-term jobs were created. No industry was revived. The buildings themselves, of course, have now been torn down. The only lasting legacy of PenPly is that the utility ratepayers of Port Angeles have had to pick up the tab for the $300,000 bill PenPly left behind. Put another way: By giving PenPly $500,000, all the City did was facilitate them running up their debt another $100,000.
That $300,000 divided by the roughly 19,000 people that live in Port Angeles equals a PenPly debt payment of nearly $16 from every single resident. Did you actually get anything for that money?
Meanwhile, the local hostility to the ONP continues – despite the hundreds of thousands of tourists it brings in every year. Meanwhile, Grant “Pound Sand” Munro continues his exploitative exporting of raw logs – using equipment that had been owned by PenPly, and that should have been sold to help pay off their many debts. And meanwhile, our local political leaders continue to bow and scrape before anything with the word “mill” associated with it. No permit? No problem, right?
Well, there is a problem, actually. The problem is our local “leaders” are either clueless or willfully blind, and completely unprepared to live life in the world as it actually is. They prefer to live in some hazy, idealized past.
Some of our totally future-focused local leaders.
And facilitating that persistent problem is a town that keeps voting these blind dolts into office. At the end of the day, that is the real millstone around our necks – us. They say we get the government we deserve, but how many of you really and truly want this?