2007 a Record Year for Port
by Jonathan Nelson
The Columbian, January 8, 2008
Timber shipments to the Port of Vancouver dropped by 55 percent in 2007, steel sagged and auto imports were stagnant.
That sounds like the earmarks for a dismal year of marine business.
But it's just the opposite as 2007 was another record-breaking year, and the why is answered in one word: diversification.
Unlike the majority of ports along the West Coast and other parts of the country that predominantly handle container traffic, the Port of Vancouver has become a niche destination for a variety of cargo, hardly any of it shipped in those 20- to 40-foot-long metal boxes.
Preliminary estimates indicate the port handled 5.5 million metric tons of cargo in 2007, compared with 5.1 million metric tons in 2006. That business generated $11.8 million in revenue.
Ship calls were also a record with 563, beating the 2005 record of 527.
"What you see is that when some markets go up, as long as they don't all go down at the same time, we're fine," Alastair Smith, the port's senior director of marketing and operations, said.
The port projects similar numbers this year, with another potential record-breaking year in 2009.
Vancouver's success runs contrary to the West Coast, where container traffic has been stagnant. Vancouver port officials are maneuvering to increase business by emphasizing its proximity to Asian markets, a factor that becomes increasingly important as shipping costs rise.
Wind turbines as test case
Smith said in 2002 the typical ship coming to Vancouver charged customers $12,000 a day to move cargo. That fee has since risen to $55,000. Smith is trying to convince companies that Vancouver is a more cost-effective destination. The port has done three test cases, including wind turbines destined for Iowa and Michigan.
"We're trying to show that the savings on the vessel more than outweighs the added rail cost," he said.
Investments in dock repairs, rehabbed warehouses and a new $3.2 million mobile crane have also helped draw business to Vancouver and resulted in long-term contracts with several shippers.
One of the biggest coups for Vancouver has been wind turbines. Vestas American Wind Technology, the wind turbine manufacturer of Portland with its parent company in Denmark, started shipping product through Vancouver in 2005. That year the wind machines accounted for 18 million metric tons of cargo. The figure rose to 30 million in 2006 and 75.2 million through November of 2007.
Japan's Subaru sent 64,333 cars to Vancouver through November 2007, a flat year compared to 2006. Smith expects a 38 percent increase in 2008 as Subaru releases two new models.
Timber shipments are expected to drop for the second straight year. That category was down 55 percent as a New Zealand lumber company that was formed for the sole purpose of supplying a mill in the Central Oregon town of Madras ceased operations, a victim of the local and national housing slump.
Imports in general are expected to be on the decline this year as a result of a weak U.S. dollar. But Smith and other Vancouver port officials believe a strong export market will offset the drop.
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