Cantwell touts Martinac for veteran hiring for ship building

U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) stopped by Tacoma’s J.M. Martinac Shipbuilding last week during the Congressional break to promote the idea of extending tax incentives for businesses that hire unemployed veterans and wounded warriors.

Veterans fill about 40 percent of the payroll at Martinac, which expects to hire 50 more employees in the next months to build a new fishing vessel that marks a new age in commercial fishing as well as busy times at the shipyard.

Company President Joe Martinac said that on days when elected officials do not stop by, radios blast the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and classic rock standards. But no ships to build means no music in the bays.

“It’s not much fun when the music stops around here,” he said, noting that the current vessel under construction is the first fishing boat built at the facility in 20 years. “This is truly going to be a landmark vessel for the industry.”

The visit came after Cantwell helped to advance a bipartisan bill that would extend the Returning Heroes and Wounded Heroes Work Opportunity Tax Credits through 2013. These credits allow businesses to obtain a tax credit of up to $9,600 for each qualified veteran – those who have been unemployed or have a service-connected disability – they hire to fill job openings. The credits are set to expire at the end of the year if not renewed.

“Last month, 31,000 veterans returned here to Washington state, looking for employment,” Cantwell said. “That's a challenge that we know very well here in Pierce County particularly because it has one of the highest concentrations of veterans in the country.”

Employers can earn tax credits of up to $5,600 when they hire unemployed veterans and up to $9,600 when they hire veterans with service-related disabilities.

The umbrella legislation, Family and Business Tax Cut Certainty Act, passed the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance by a 19-5 vote, is currently pending consideration by the full Senate. In addition to the tax credits for hiring veterans, the legislation would also extend key tax credits, including deductions for state and local sales taxes, building low-income housing, producing clean energy and investing in research and development. Without an extension, Washington residents would no longer be able to deduct the sales taxes they pay from their federal income tax returns. For 2009, the most recent year of published Internal Revenue Service data, nearly 850,000 Washingtonians took advantage of the state and local sales tax deduction and reduced their taxable income by more than $1.8 billion.

Washington State Employment Security Department reports that some 1,700 veterans have been hired with the help of the Returning Heroes and Wounded Heroes Work Opportunity Tax Credits. As of last month, there were 31,000 unemployed veterans in Washington. Most of them are located in Puget Sound because its proximity to Joint Base Lewis McChord and U.S. Navy operations in Bremerton.

Martinac is currently building the Northern Leader, the largest fishing vessel under construction in the nation. The company expects to hire 50 workers during the next several months to build the vessel’s interior for Alaskan Leader Fisheries. The Northern Leader’s construction was spurred by Cantwell’s legislation to create a cooperative for the freezer longline fishery off Alaska’s coast.

The new vessel is a sign that the fishing industry sees profits ahead, partially brought by legislation Cantwell promoted two years ago that created a cooperative for the freezer longline fishery, where companies are allocated set harvest quotas. The cooperative eliminates the “race for fish” and enables companies to harvest more value from each catch, helping to increase profit by 20 percent and spur investment in new fishing vessels with greater processing and storage capacity. The Northern Leader will have greater processing capacity and offer the largest freezer hold capacities of any longliner vessel.

The Puyallup Tribe’s military and tribal affairs liaison Chris Winters, who is also the business representative for the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades Local 1964, said the legislation provides returning veterans with assistance from a grateful nation.

“They don’t want a hand out; they want a hand up,” he said.

The 88-year-old company offers apprenticeships solely to Native Americans and to military veterans through the employment program Helmets To Hardhats.

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