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|Sunday, July 01, 2007|
Global freight traffic is up and the Port of Portland is poised for growth, as long as congestion doesn’t derail it.
By Christina Williams
The Port of Portland is small. Dinky, even. It’s 104 miles up a river and even when dredging is completed on the Columbia it’s not going to be able to accommodate the huge new container ships that are blazing around the globe these days.
But supporters of the port are optimistic despite these shortcomings for one simple reason: As the U.S. appetite for foreign goods continues to swell, freight moved in this country is expected to double in the coming decades, with most imports coming from Asia and looking for a place to land on the West Coast.
“I can tell you that 10 years ago, I would have sat right here and said there will only be two super-ports [on the West Coast], Southern California and the Puget Sound,” says Dale Sause, president and CEO of Coos Bay-based marine cargo company Sause Bros. “I would have said everything in between didn’t count. But I can’t say that same thing now. We are in a new world.”
But, if Portland, which works closely with Washington’s Port of Vancouver (which, at just 197 TEUs moved last year is even smaller than Portland), is a diamond in the rough for shippers who want to hedge their bets by bringing cargo into the U.S. through a less-congested port, it certainly isn’t the only one. Newly developed ports in Mexico and Canada are also gearing up to absorb more West Coast trade traffic and will be competing for the same shipping business with the same low-hassle marketing message.
And news this spring that another shipping giant, A.P. Moller-Maersk Group, is eyeing Coos Bay for a terminal that would be similar to the one in Prince Rupert highlights the fact that Oregon could benefit — in the form of the jobs and revenue that come from handling freight — from the growing demand for port capacity.
In May, several hundred people representing North-west ports, shippers, logistics companies and manufacturers converged in Portland for the first Northwest Intermodal Conference, a meeting to discuss the issues that Northwest ports face — namely not enough railroad capacity, not enough truck capacity, not enough people, not enough love from the general population and not enough sunshine.
PORTLAND HAS ANOTHER MOTIVATOR for fixing its transportation issues and winning more import traffic: empty containers.
Oregon’s always been an export-heavy state, shipping lumber and agricultural goods, and the state still has plenty to sell. The Port of Portland is the third-largest export center for grain in the world and the largest wheat export port in the United States. Top exports by volume include wheat, potash, soda ash (both used in making glass and detergents) and compressed hay. By pursuing importers, the port ensures that Oregon exports have a ready ride to Asia.
In 2003, Virginia discount retailer Dollar Tree opened a distribution center in Ridgefield, Wash. Now the Port of Portland is the No. 1 U.S. port for Dollar Tree’s considerable Asia import trade.
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