Portland Hopes to Catch Up
by Associated Press
The Port of Portland hopes to regain lost ground in the container shipping trade from Asia with two new shipping lines adding the port to their West Coast stops this year.
Chinese imports that have reached $24.6 billion a month and are still growing have fueled a boom in container shipping that has not increased as dramatically in Portland, an inland port with a relatively small population base.
But Asian import growth has boosted ship construction and crane manufacturing, along with rail companies, the conduits from West Coast ports to the rest of the country.
As an example, Kroger Co., the parent of the Fred Meyer grocery and retail chain, imports roughly 10,000 containers a year through Portland. But slightly less than half hold goods that are distributed in the Pacific Northwest. Most of the rest is moved by rail to a distribution center in Tennessee.
Kroger is one of the largest container movers through the Port of Portland under a contract with Hanjin Shipping. The retailer has seen a tenfold rise in imports from Asia since 1998.
"This is where Oregon meets the world," Gov. Ted Kulongoski said in a July gathering at the Port's Terminal 6 to celebrate the new carrier service, which comes two years after the Port lost two such lines.
Container shipping began roughly 50 years ago, and has created a bridge for all kinds of imports -- from manufactured goods from Asia to fresh-picked fruit from South America.
Imports from China alone doubled between 1997 and 2002.
Dennis Gallacher, director of international logistics for Kroger, said some of that growth led to Kroger's takeover of Fred Meyer in 1999, nearly tripling the number of stores served.
Gallacher said most of the Fred Meyer-Kroger container growth in recent years is due to the rapid expansion of high-quality goods available in Asia, coupled with Kroger's increased offerings of imported goods such as patio and indoor furniture and stuffed animals.
Seasonal items such as Christmas lights create huge volumes, he said. Store buyers work as much as a year ahead to identify manufacturers, then place springtime orders that will be transported by ship in August.
Consumers have reacted strongly. On a recent shopping trip to a Tualatin Fred Meyer, Kristine Raymond hooked an ideal nightstand for her son's bedroom.
The nightstand, along with a China made cordless screwdriver, both traveled halfway around the world in a container before reaching the store's shelves.
"I'm mostly checking prices, not where it comes from," Raymond said. "It seems like everything's from China anyway."
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