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Port of Portland Gains New Shipper

by Alex Pulaski
The Oregonian, March 15, 2006

Commerce - The addition of Israel-based Zim, the second recent add, will mean about 100 more jobs

The Port of Portland's ship is coming in, again.

Weeks after securing assurances from one trans-Pacific container carrier that it would start Portland service by summer, the Port announced Tuesday that another steamship line will begin weekly calls May 14.

The entrance of Israel-based Zim Integrated Shipping Services Ltd. is expected to create roughly 100 jobs, offer greater import and export options for businesses and allow the Port to rebound from the loss of two steamship lines in 2004. Since then, when it was down to one carrier serving Asia, the Port has seen the volume of its container export business cut in half and imports fall 8.5 percent.

The loss of millions in revenue led the Port to cut 10 percent of its staff in September 2004. Since then, it has wooed carriers from Asia to Europe to the Middle East, but until now had been unable to celebrate success by symbolically ringing the marine bell in the Port's downtown Portland headquarters.

"Is there pressure? Of course there's pressure," said Sam Ruda, the Port's marine director. "We had a big setback in one aspect of our marine franchise . . . and that's had a disproportionate impact on how good we're feeling about ourselves."

Bill Wyatt, the Port's executive director, said Zim's decision to replace Seattle with a Portland stop signals a shift in Portland's potential in moving imports.

For decades, Portland has been primarily an exporter, sending high-volume, low-margin agricultural goods to Asia. Its relatively small population base -- compared with Los Angeles, for example -- kept it from blossoming as a destination for lucrative consumer goods from overseas.

Zim officials estimate that about 70 percent of containers unloaded in Portland will be destined for customers within two hours' drive. The other 30 percent of imports will move inland by rail.

Gordon Kay, Zim's executive vice president for marketing and sales in North America, said the company is intent on expanding service to Midwest distribution centers via rail, with Portland as a gateway.

"There's only so much we can grow in Portland on the local level," he said, "so we have to reach into the Midwest."

Neither Zim nor Taiwan-based Yang Ming -- the company coming in June -- are titans in global container movement, which over the last decade has mushroomed in importance as the umbilical cord between U.S. consumers and Chinese goods.

Yang Ming expects to initiate Portland service with five relatively small vessels capable of carrying 1,500 standard containers, with stops in Taiwan and China. Zim has 13 vessels on a Pacific Northwest-Asia-Mediterranean route that are roughly 21/2 times that size.

The Zim service will open trade avenues between Portland and Greece, Turkey, Romania, Israel and Sri Lanka.

Importer-exporters also welcome additional Portland service as a means of keeping shipping rates down and fueling the state's economy.

"This isn't just a Portland issue -- it's a state of Oregon issue," said Bob Coleman, president and chief executive officer of Portland-based Total Logistics Resource Inc.

"This is a start and I hope this isn't perceived as winning the war, because we need to continue to bring more carriers in here."

Alex Pulaski
Port of Portland Gains New Shipper
The Oregonian, March 15, 2006

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