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Aviation Traffic Drives Growth for Port of Portland

The Port of Portland is contemplating adding gates at Portland International Airport for the first time in 20 years, signaling how increased airplane traffic is the main source of growth for the airport operator.

Bill Wyatt, executive director of the Port of Portland, said the airport is running out of parking space because of increased traffic. Passenger numbers were up 10% in March compared with the same time last year, according to Port of Portland statistics. Freight traffic was up 8% over the same time period.

Wyatt spoke at a breakfast meeting Tuesday on shifting trends in the state’s traded sector. The event is part of a series of topic-led breakfast seminars hosted by Oregon Business magazine.

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The increase in aviation traffic contrasts with the decline of Port of Portland’s marine traffic. The number of containers at the port’s marine terminals fell 94.4% between March 2015 and March 2016. The port’s marine business has been struck by the loss of two major shipping lines – Hanjin Shipping Co. and Hapag Lloyd – which left the port last year after a labor dispute between container-terminal operator ICTSI Oregon and the longshore workers union.

But the decline in marine business for the port also signals a shift in the local economy, which derives most of its growth from high-tech goods, such as electronics, which are moved by air.

“We think of trade as the exchange of physical stuff; but growth is in very high-value goods and services and the ability to export knowledge,” said Joe Cortright, economist and president of Impresa Consulting. He cited the example of sportswear apparel company Nike, which manufactures most of its products in Asia, moving very few goods through Portland.

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Panelists Blake Rowe, CEO of Oregon Wheat, and Chris Sarles, CEO of Oregon Fruit Products, spoke of how important the Trans-Pacific partnership is to breaking down tariffs and streamlining trade agreements. Both Rowe and Sarles said the agreement would remove barriers to Asian markets, such as Vietnam and Malaysia. “They are hugely important to us in terms of free markets,” said Rowe.

But the partnership has its shortcomings, said Cortright. He pointed to onerous rules that would extend the duration of copyrights and patents in certain industries, such as the biopharmaceutical and entertainment sectors, which he said creates monopolies and stifles innovation.

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Kim Moore

Kim Moore is the research editor for Oregon Business magazine.

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