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Port Directors Favor Joining Forces

by Jonathan Nelson
The Columbian, October 7, 2004

Years of selling marine and industrial operations separately might end soon for the ports of Vancouver and Portland as the respective agencies are expected to sign a joint marketing and development agreement next week.

Under terms of the arrangement, the ports could develop facilities together, share related development costs and revenues, and engage in joint marketing activities.

The Port of Vancouver meets Tuesday to consider the agreement. The Port of Portland gathers Wednesday.

The unification builds on a previous arrangement but is stronger in language and intent. It also comes as the region struggles to remain a significant player among West Coast ports. Two shipping companies recently announced plans to end container service to the Port of Portland, representing a $12.4 million annual operating loss. The port responded by slashing its budget and laying off 81 workers.

"It's an important thing, a timely thing, a coming together and recognition that we are a region," said Larry Paulson, Port of Vancouver's executive director.

Bill Wyatt, executive director at the Port of Portland, echoed Paulson's sentiment.

"This agreement represents an understanding on both sides of the Columbia (River) that the Port of Portland and Port of Vancouver serve the same people and same businesses," Wyatt said. "It also demonstrates our desire to work together to serve those people and businesses as efficiently and cost effectively as possible."

The ports, which straddle opposite sides of the Columbia River, have existed for years like friendly neighbors who wave to each other, but seldom interact beyond this social grace.

The two entities share similar interests such as deepening the river's channel and expanding business, but travel in different circles. The bulk of Portland's marine business comes from container ships. Vancouver's marine operations are split between grain exports, lumber and bulk cargo.

A 1996 discussion agreement has allowed the agencies to work collectively on the channel-deepening issue, automobile importation facilities and regional transportation and legislative issues.

Similar working relationships between ports is not uncommon in the industry. But Paulson said it's rare to marry the kinds of operations proposed by Vancouver and Portland.

"In the past we've marketed us and they've marketed them," Paulson said. "We've literally passed them in Tokyo and other parts of the world."

The agreement, which was a year in the making, doesn't mention specific projects, but Paulson said it gives the agencies a chance to look at leveraging industrial land on both sides of the river.

Portland recently bought a closed aluminum plant in Troutdale, Ore., and Vancouver is working to develop the Columbia Gateway, considered the largest piece of undeveloped industrial land in the region.

Jonathan Nelson covers retail, banking and the Port of Vancouver for The Columbian.
Port Directors Favor Joining Forces
The Columbian, October 7, 2004

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