Friday, July 6, 2012

The Nice Young Men From the Gateway Pacific Terminal

Red Skelton as the Fuller Brush Man, 1948

I had a nice chat today with two door-to-door salesmen for the Gateway Pacific Terminal.

Like most people who work at home, I’m not usually excited about interruptions.  I went to the door only because I thought that it might be a delivery.  And it was, of sorts – delivery of a sales pitch.

Although this blog has convinced at least one of our readers that I’m a kind, grandmotherly soul, I’m actually too young to remember door to door salesmen.  My mother and grandmother used to talk about the “Fuller Brush Man” – apparently Fuller brushes were darn good brushes.  And my grandmother, come to think of it, used to get “Charles Chips” in large round metal cans.  Potato chips, that is, sold by a traveling chip salesman.  Imagine a time when junk food came to you!  And the can was reusable.

Where was I?  Sales.  I was interested to see how a door to door salesman would pitch a product other than a political candidate or a religion. 

The two young salesmen had big official name tags that said their names and “GPT.”  I’m not going to use their names because I don’t want to get them into any trouble.  They really don’t deserve to get into trouble.  They were sweet.  They were well-groomed, and they made eye contact except when they didn’t know something (then they looked at each other), and they really didn’t do anything wrong.

Every now and then, they said something wrong, but they didn’t mean to.  That mostly happened when they were improvising.

Here’s what they did right:

  • They did not deny that coal would be exported.  Their immediate sales pitch was for a terminal exporting potash, grains, and a long list of other commodities.  When I asked them how big their contract was for grains and other commodities, one of them said “We have a contract for coal, so that will definitely be there.  Grains are standing by, waiting to see what happens.”  They said that the terminal could handle 50 million tons at buildout. Pretty close.
  •  They said that "Panamax" ships would transport the coal (close enough), and that “1½ ships per day” would stop at the facility.  No understatement there.  The GPT “Project Information Document” says that 487 ships per year will be using the pier at buildout, and 1 ½ ships per day comes out to 540 ships.  I guess that 487 sounds big, but 1 ½ per day sounds manageable.
  •  We chatted about the fact that three coal trains have derailed in the past few days.  (If you haven’t heard about this, here’s an article describing the three derailments).    When I speculated that the reason might be that more coal is being transported long distances by train, they nodded their heads enthusiastically and one of them said “Could very well be!”  So they agreed with the customer.

There were a few questions, and a few topics, that they didn’t seem to have anticipated.  That’s where they floundered a bit.
  •  I asked if the fact that three coal trains derailed recently is a cause for concern.  One of them replied, “It’s just coal – it’s not like a toxic substance or something.  You just sweep it up and it’s gone.”  I asked if it would not be a problem if a train derailed as it passed by a water body – for example, if the derailment happened along Chuckanut.  He said, “It’s not like the Gulf of Mexico with oil spilling everywhere.  You can see it, so you can clean it up.” 
Time out:  My husband, a water chemist, howled when he heard this.  I guess that toxicity related to coal, especially in aquatic systems, is not unheard of. 

Also, what is this fixation that coal terminal supporters have with being able see/not to see coal dust?  You can’t see coal dust along the tracks, so the train isn’t a problem.  You can see coal dust when it spills, so it’s not a problem. The visible/invisible metric for gauging hazards.  Where did that come from? 

OK, back to the conversation.

  • Speaking of being able to “see” coal, I asked if the large coal storage piles on the site would be enclosed in structures.  No, they said, but there would be “mists and sprinklers” to water down the coal.  Besides, “you should see the trees out there.  They’re really big.  You won’t be able to see anything.”  There we go again—the “coal dust only matters if you can see it” thing.  Also, I couldn’t help but think of the ghosts of trees past at Cherry Point (past, but not converted).  
  • Speaking of exporting grain, one of the gentlemen pulled out his map of train routes and showed me the route that goes through Bellingham, into Canada and over to the Westshore Terminal at Roberts Bank.  “If there’s a terminal at Cherry Point, there’s no reason that the trains would keep taking the grain on up to Canada,” he said.  I wanted to make sure I’d heard right, so I said “Are trains taking American grain to Westshore to be exported?”  He paused for a beat, and then said “Yes.”  I don’t think that’s right, and I wasn't convinced that he knew one way or another.  When in doubt, sometimes punting might be the best response.
  •  When I asked how many permanent jobs would be created, one of the salesmen said confidently “1,200.”  When I looked stunned, he added “At full buildout.”  I said “Are you sure?” and he said “Yes.”  Well – the Gateway Pacific website says “294-430 permanent direct jobs,” and it seems unlikely that this is a conservative figure.  But I think that the problem is that the spoken word lacks asterisks.  The handout that he gave me states:  “A number of studies and estimates show that the Gateway Pacific Terminal will create . . .  .between 850 and 1,250* new jobs through its operation.”        * Includes direct and indirect jobs generated.   It’s the multiplier effect.  
This blog has a multiplier effect, by the way.  While I write it, I often drink coffee.  Somebody had to make that coffeepot.  The coffee was grown by somebody, somewhere, and a local person at the grocery store checkout made sure that I paid for it.  The coffee contributes to the volume of wastes processed at our wastewater treatment plant, which employs people.  If you add up all those parts of jobs, I’ve created a couple of jobs (indirectly) right there.

Now, multiply that by the number of people who need blood pressure medicine after they read this blog.  The pharmaceutical industry provides well-paid jobs, as does the medical profession.  Those jobs undoubtedly pay well in excess of $100,000 a year.  Therefore, this blog alone creates 4-6 jobs paying an average of $75,000 per year (It’s only fair to assume that that the coffee bean picker and the grocery store clerk bring down the average wage).

It’s so easy being an indirect-job creator.  More people ought to try it.

But wait a minute.  Should I get the credit for those jobs?  Or does the credit go somewhere else – to the entity that was even more indirectly involved in creating the jobs? 

That brings us to the final point:  the Gateway Pacific Terminal is already creating jobs.  Perhaps the two young gentlemen that I met today are what the signs have in mind – the ones that say “Good Jobs Now.”  Two young salesmen, a coffee grower, a grocery checkout person, a wastewater treatment plant operator, a pharmaceutical manufacturer, and a physician or two. . .


  1. People who rock: You.

  2. Wonderful! I have forwarded this on FB.

  3. Yes. Agreed. That is, you rock. You do. Thank you!

  4. Great information, Jean! I am glad they were so helpful. I especially love the part about 1½ ships per day. Because it's just so easy to visualize all these half-ships per day that will be crossing through our salmon fishery. And the American grain being shipped out through the Westshore terminal? Makes for a crunchy cereal, that's for sure.

    By the way, if anyone is interested in doing something like this (going door to door) for the good guys, we could really use your help. Call or e-mail me and I will get you set up! It's 360-303-1660, or mattp -at-

  5. I was wondering if anyone had thought about how 230 permanent jobs or 430 jobs compares to other uses of the same land. It is some of the only heavy industry land in the county. I think 1400 acres and the associated deep water port. It would seem that even a grain shipment facility would create more jobs. Or more likely literally anything else would create more jobs. The Seattle Port moves about 22 million tons of product each year, I bet it employs a LOT more people.

    Has anybody analyzed that aspect of this project?


    1. Actually you can see the coal dust on the tracks. Wayne Gerner watched a track cleaner go across the causeway and blow the dust into Chuckanut Bay.

  6. Here I was feeling special to have had an encounter on my front porch with just ONE GPT Rep, and you had TWO! I am impressed. :)
    This is a great post. I just finished writing about my own encounter this past Friday ( and then discovered your awesome write-up. While we did not talk about jobs, there were some other interesting points that came up. A highlight for me was when the GPT Rep told me how they planned on leaving so many trees, "you won't even be able to see the terminal!" Looks like that is a common theme they are promoting... :)

  7. Well said. I however did get Charles Chips (or was it Charlies) delivered to my home when I was a kid.

    1. Charlies. I think you're right. Or Charlie's? I don't remember.

  8. This is good - really good. Funny, creative and informed. I was wondering what "indirect jobs" looked like! And you were very kind to the nice young men who showed up at your door. Thank you.