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Economic and dam related articles

Port of Portland: Charting a Course

by Alex Pulaski
The Oregonian, February 18, 2005

A group concerned about the loss of direct container traffic
comes up with ideas to lure business to the Port of Portland

Importers, exporters and the Port of Portland are banding together to try to attract more container carriers.

After losing two of three trans-Pacific carriers in the past five months, the Port is desperate to regain ground in the lucrative container trade. It has come under pressure from farmers and retailers that count on shipping containers to export french fries and import ski jackets.

In search of solutions, nearly 50 people gathered earlier this week in the inaugural meeting of the Columbia River Container Service Committee. The meeting was not open to the public, but participants later said three themes emerged:

Chris Mergenthaler, a partner in Geo. S. Bush & Co., a Portland-based freight-forwarder and one of the committee's co-chairmen, said the company's business has flipped in recent years from relying on imports for roughly 30 percent of revenue a decade ago to more than 70 percent today.

Accompanying that shift, he said, has been a decrease in direct container traffic through Portland.

"Over the last five years," he said, "at least 60 percent of what we handle hasn't come through the Port of Portland and isn't distributed anywhere in Oregon."

Carl Davis, a vice president with Columbia Sportswear Co., based in Washington County, said the sports apparel manufacturer years ago had seen about two-thirds of its imported goods pass through the Port of Portland. Because of reductions in service and other reasons, he said the figure has dropped significantly.

Greg Borossay, the Port's general manager for liner development, told committee members that ocean carriers can charge so much more for imports -- about three times as much per container as for U.S. exports -- that they actually make more by speeding containers' movement to Asia by returning them empty.

Mergenthaler and others say the lack of container options has made it particularly hard on some Oregon agricultural exporters, which now have to send their goods by truck or rail to the ports of Tacoma and Seattle.

Container movement fell 4.7 percent last year through the Port of Portland, down from record highs in 2003. The number is expected to fall precipitously this year unless more carriers are found: In December 2004, container traffic dropped 47 percent from the same month in 2003.

Committee participants said they plan to meet again within two months, but the committee set no date. Meanwhile, smaller groups will gather information.

Alex Pulaski
Port of Portland: Charting a Course
The Oregonian, February 18, 2005

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