Port of Vancouver USA is a well-oiled transportation machine

2019 ‘Port Report’ reveals 99% occupancy and a strong transportation infrastructure

Cargo ship
VBJ File

The Port of Vancouver USA is a key player in the economic vitality and growth of Clark County – it’s a well-oiled machine that drives burgeoning trade, economic development and tourism in this area. The Port provides this region with access to the global marketplace – their leased facilities generate jobs and businesses in the Clark County economy, and those businesses contribute state and local taxes that support public services.

According to the Port’s mission and vision: “Our connection to the world creates possibility right here at home. For over 100 years, the Port of Vancouver has brought economic opportunity and the benefits of global partnerships to our region.”

During the recent Port Report, Port of Vancouver USA CEO Julianna Marler said, “Washington state is the most trade-dependent state in the United States.”

The Port of Vancouver USA, established in 1912, is the third oldest port in the state and covers about one-third of Clark County — 1,600 acres. The Port is the farthest that ships can venture inland on the Columbia River — 105 miles inland with a 43-foot channel. In 2018, the Port of Vancouver USA handled 8.1 million metric tons, up from 7.5 million tons. It was the fifth consecutive year that the Port had record tonnage.

And the Port of Vancouver is well-positioned for trade — it’s 14 days by ship from Asia to the Port of Vancouver versus 29 days to the Port of Mexico. The Port’s trade partners include Japan, China, Taiwan, Korean, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, and Indonesia, India, Australia, and New Zealand, Europe and Egypt, Guatemala, Brazil, Peru and Chile.

With all of these trade partners, there are 86% exports and 14% imports. The top export is grain — 50% of all wheat in the United States comes through our Columbia River, and 10% of that comes through the Port of Vancouver. The Port’s top imports in 2018 were 91,544 Subarus and 830,912 metric tons of steel — pipe, slabs and coil. In 2018, the Port did 46 million tons of international trade, with cargo value of $24 billion.

The Port is also well-prepared for rail trade. The West Vancouver Freight Access, a $241 million project, the largest capital project in the Port’s history, was completed last year, augmenting the railroad system from 16 to 49 miles of track; increasing capacity from 50,000 to 400,000 rail cars; creating 1,000 to 2,000 new permanent jobs; attracting $500 million in private-sector investment; and increasing the velocity on the mainline by 40%, thereby reducing congestion — that includes Amtrak, BSNF and UP. Rail traffic reached 67,734 rail cars, from Chicago to Houston, and from Canada to Mexico. And with the Port’s 13 shipping berths, there were 391 vessels that docked at the Port in 2018.

In a 2014 Economic Impact Study by Martin Associates, the Port of Vancouver was found to provide 3,237 direct jobs from marine and industrial activities; $584 million in salaries, wages and consumer spending; a total of 20,200 direct, induced, indirect and influenced jobs, up from 16,996 in 2010; $102 million in local/state taxes, an increase of 27% over 2010; $767 million in business revenue; and $397 million in local goods and service purchases.

More than 50 businesses call the Port home, with 99% occupancy over the last six years. Some of those businesses are: Glenn Dimplex Americas (Cadet); Northwest Packing Company; NuStar Energy; Warehouse 23; Trobella Cabinetry; CalPortland Northwest; Food Express; United Grain and Great Western Malt. Hawthorne Hydroponics in the big Centennial Industrial Building and Kaseberg Transport are the newest businesses.

The Port still has open available land in the Centennial Industrial Park — 17 acres of shovel-ready acres for lease and 50 adjacent acres available for development. Farther west is the Columbia Gateway, 500 acres of marine and heavy industrial land — it’s the largest waterside development opportunity on the West Coast.

In 2018, revenue resources were 50% marine terminal/ operations (dockage, wharfage fees), 30% industrial leases and facilities, 10% property taxes and 10% other such as grants. Revenues from marine and industrial operations are reinvested in facility improvements, infrastructure and salaries. Property taxes are used for environmental remediation, debt service repayment and capital improvements.

The new waterfront development

The Port’s new waterfront development, Terminal 1, “a new destination waterfront for everyone to enjoy,” lies directly west of the I-5 Bridge and east of the railroad bridge. When Terminal 1 is completed, it will have nearly 950,000 square feet of new mixed-use development; provide 800 new jobs as well as construction development of more than $200 million; and bring in projected state and local taxes over the next 25 years of almost $93 million.

“Terminal 1 will have office buildings, a marketplace and hotel, and riverbank biking and walking trails,” said Port of Vancouver Commission President Jerry Oliver at a recent Port Report.

This development will come together in two phases. Phase I, to be completed in two to five years, will be the hotel and renaissance trail, and design for the amphitheater, the Vancouver Landing, which they’re redoing — it won’t be the massive concrete bunker that it is now, but a place for the public to enjoy. The Port offers a thank you to the Vancouver Rotary, which gave $500,000 for the Vancouver Landing project. The 150-room hotel, the AC Marriott, will be seven or eight stories with meeting space and a restaurant; they will be breaking ground in about 60 days. The Port will retain the public dock. Then in 2021 to 2022, the old Red Lion Hotel will come down and rebuilding will begin.

Phase II of Terminal 1 will be the Marketplace. The Marketplace will feature boutique and gift shops for local goods, restaurants, craft breweries and regional wineries; day table and booth opportunities; a visual history of the port and of the Vancouver waterfront; and public event space.

Future challenges

The Port faces some challenges in the upcoming years that officials discussed during the recent Port Report. One of the most important challenges is the future I-5 Bridge and planning for where that will be — coordination and accessibility are important. The Port is a strong supporter of replacing the I-5 Bridge. There are economic issues for the region — it affects workers, freight and emergency responders. Another important challenge is the FAA Height restriction — with the Portland International Airport and Pearson Airfield close by, there is a limitation on building height related to air traffic. Other challenges are the 1943 pier infrastructure that must be replaced, the deconstruction of the old Red Lion Inn/Quay restaurant building; sufficient parking; and funding of costs.

For a tour of the Port, see the website at https://www.portvanusa.com/

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