Ports aren’t always the first thought when it comes to what creates the economic vitality of a region. But that is exactly their mission.
They provide land and infrastructure to promote trade, operate docks, airports, railroads and recreational facilities and develop industrial sites and business parks.
In short, they bring investment and jobs to the region.
“We’re a tool for job creation – that’s the main aspect of being a port,” said David Ripp, executive director of the Port of Camas-Washougal.
There are 75 port districts in Washington – the world’s largest locally controlled port system, according to the Washington Public Ports Association – eight of which are located in Southwest Washington.
The VBJ checked in with six regional ports about their growth and what lies ahead.
Port of Vancouver
Rail is a key to sustaining the port’s busy track record
The Port of Vancouver may be one of the region’s busiest ports, with 630 developed acres, 52 tenants and plenty of marine activity.
The port’s imports and exports, combined with leases of industrial space, brought total revenue to nearly $28 million in 2007 – up from $24.3 million in 2006.
Shipping is what keeps the port busiest. In 2007, it handled more than 5.9 million tons of cargo, up 21.2 percent from 2006. Its largest clients include United Grain Corp., Subaru and Vestus, the world’s largest manufacturer of wind turbines.
“With the weak dollar, exports from the United States are strong,” said Executive Director Larry Paulson.
The port has sale agreements to buy a total of 668 acres at the Alcoa-Evergreen sites and there is a land option agreement to develop the 273-acre former Rufener Farm property, which likely will be home to an unnamed manufacturing tenant with 600 jobs.
The port’s biggest challenge has been filling the need for rail improvements, Paulson said.
It is in the first phase of developing the West Vancouver Freight Access project that will create a state-of-the art unit train facility at the port and increase capacity for rail freight through it, according to the port.
“The rail issue and the acquisition of the land are long-term critical,” Paulson said. “We are 70 percent rail dependent now, and expect to go 80 percent rail dependent by 2025. We have found over the last few years that our need for rail is growing significantly to match the needs of current and new customers.”
Port of Ridgefield
After toxic clean-up, port has plans for a 40-acre mixed use project on the waterfront
The port’s rural district in North Clark County is located just off Interstate 5 and is poised to gain 22,000 people in 20 years – eight times Ridgefield’s current population.
The district has the largest amount of available land for development in the Vancouver-Portland metro area, said Executive Director Brent Grening.
“The land out here is going to be under demand,” he said. “We have to stay engaged or we could get run over by it. In the 1980s, Hillsboro probably looked a lot like Ridgefield. A metro area this size can do that again.”
But before the port can prepare land for that growth, it has to finish its chores – a massive toxic clean-up of the former site of Pacific Wood Treating Co., which declared bankruptcy in 1993.
“They put the keys to the mill down and walked away,” Grening said. “Forklifts, trucks and all kinds of equipment were still on-site. There were thousands of pounds of hazardous material on-site the port had to deal with.”
In 1995, the Department of Ecology declared it the port’s job to prepare the site for future use.
“Because of the focus the clean-up has taken, it’s kept us from running a typical port business,” Grening said.
Clean-up costs about $5 million each year, and the $68 million project is a big pill to swallow for the port – which has an annual operating budget of $800,000. Project money comes through grants from the state Department of Ecology’s Model Toxic Control Account, of which the port will likely have to repay 35 percent.
Once the project is finished, Grening looks forward to developing 40 mixed-use acres on Ridgefield’s waterfront and bringing new life to downtown.
The port now has three tenants that bring in $100,000. Taxes make up 7 percent of the port’s operating budget, and the rest comes from interest earned on a loan to Southwest Washington Medical Center, which bought 75 acres from the port in 2007 to build a medical campus. Development is likely to begin there in 18 months, Grening said.
Port of Longview
Port is eyeing wind energy products thanks to new mobile harbor crane
Marine imports and exports are the name of the game at the Port of Longview.
The port owns about 400 acres of land and has eight tenants, but only 4.5 percent of its total operating revenue comes from space leases.
“We are heavily dependent on cargo activity from the marine terminals as our bread and butter,” said Executive Director Ken O’Hollaren.
First quarter tonnage this year was up 36 percent over the same period in 2007 and O’Hallaren expects overall annual revenue to be up about 5 percent from 2007, thanks to an influx of wind energy equipment the port will handle in the second half of the year.
This summer, a recently purchased mobile harbor crane will go into action, handling wind energy equipment and other heavy products. The $4.5 million crane will lead to a net savings for port customers because of revenue the port expects to generate by renting the crane, O’Hallaren said.
Up ahead is the development of a grain export terminal on port property, which will require the acquisition of a 10-acre parcel of land adjacent to the port.
“There’s great support from the community here,” O’Hollaren said. “Resistance to development is certainly not the case.”
This year’s operating budget is $18.25 million, and taxes provide $2.1 million in non-operating revenue. Business from companies such as Siemens, General Electric and Suzlon make up about 20 percent of the port’s total operating revenue.
Port of Woodland
Port boosts its lease incomes
Woodland is a community that values self-reliance, and its port strives to be a model of that. For eight of the last nine years, the port has avoided increasing taxes by boosting its lease income. Two thirds of its $893,000 budget is from leases, said Executive Director Erica Rainford.
“The community appreciates people being self-supporting and (when) government agencies can take that stance,” Rainford said. “To see we are making a difference and are self-sustaining is a pat on the back for them. They have more money to spend in the economy, so it’s good all the way around.”
She said the port’s goal is to see an 8 percent to 10 percent return on investments.
In Woodland, the port owns 77 acres of light industrial land and 200 undeveloped industrial acres on the waterfront. Updates to the port’s comprehensive plan will determine what happens there.
There are 17 tenants at the port and it is constructing a 17,000-square-foot building for Custom Manufacturing, which is consolidating its Ridgefield headquarters and Kelso office in Woodland. Otherwise, the port concentrates on smaller spaces.
Elsewhere, the port is getting infrastructure in place at a 19-acre industrial property off Guild Road.
As the port district moves further from its previous dependence on timber and heavy manufacturing, Rainford hopes it will attract large, long-term clients in technology and research based industries while manufacturing may taper off.
“It would mean better wage jobs and a different focus in industry,” she said.
Port of Kalama
Development is the name of the game
The port is wrapping up construction on a 40,000-square-foot industrial building – the largest port-owned building to date at its 75-acre Kalama River Industrial Park. It will be ready to lease by the middle of July, and if recent activity is any indication, should fill quickly.
The space could be split into 10,000-square-foot sections or leased as one space, said Mindi Linquist, director of government affairs and marketing.
“Basically, we want to have space available so that when they’re looking, we have it,” she said.
The port is home to 26 tenants, which as of January, employ 945 people. The largest employers include RSG Forest Products, employing 145, Emerald Kalama Chemical, employing 146, and Steelscape with 279 employees.
Cameron Family Glass Packaging, which is building a $109 million plant at the port, recently started its first round of hiring, Linquist said.
“Our job is to make sure there are good jobs for the citizens of Kalama,” she said. “We provide land and make sure jobs stay in this region.”
It is the only port in Washington that doesn’t collect taxes.
The port also has started the first phase of East Port (the name will likely change), a “very light industrial” and manufacturing park on 250 acres on the east side of I-5. The port has been buying property there for the last few years, and is in the first phase of permitting.
Because the land is near residential areas, it will have to be home to low-impact tenants.
Ground breaking for the first phase is at least three to five years off, Linquist said.
“We’re always thinking of the next step,” she said. “We’re here to make sure economic development comes to Kalama.”
Port of Camas-Washougal
Port looks to possible future development
The Port of Camas-Washougal has seen steady growth in the last few years.
In 2007, its net assets were up $1.6 million, following a $1.7 million increase in 2006. The port is in the midst of a rezone assessment process to decide the future use of its 400-acre East Industrial Park, which has more than 125 acres available for development. What started as a couple proposals to rezone the light and heavy industrial park into something with a wider range of employment uses has turned into a decision about a vision for the future. The port commission has since decided that instead of a rezone, it will gather public input to determine the most beneficial use.
It could be developed into a business or technology park, it may be left the same or it may be sold.
A market analysis showed that if developed into a technology park, it could provide more jobs but the build out would require twice as much time as developing an industrial park – 16 years versus 37 years.
The port is an economic benefit to its district to the tune of $1.5 million annually, said Executive Director David Ripp. Its budget is roughly $5.5 million, $2 million of which comes from taxes.
Another rezoning project is under way for the area next to its 79-hangar airport, which is not now zoned for airport use. A client has plans to build more hangars – of which Ripp said the port is in desperate need.
Vancouver-based Team Construction is in the midst of constructing a 15,000-square-foot light manufacturing building, which he said is currently half-leased.
As for the proposed Riverwalk waterfront development, both partners – the port and private developers Riverwalk on the Columbia LLC – entered into arbitration in March.
The parties entered into an agreement in 2005 to develop the 65-acre mixed use project.
“We’re moving on,” Ripp said.