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Hello Prince Rupert | Northern BC Business
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Hello Prince Rupert

Skeena River

Skeena River

Hello Prince Rupert


July 22, 2009: Recently, Global TV News profiled the community of Prince Rupert. Several local shopkeepers and businessmen were interviewed for the story. Each expressed their disappointment that the Port of Prince Rupert wasn’t yet working at capacity. Clearly, for them, the Port was largely responsible for the community’s economic woes.

I found no fault with the coverage. It was an honest portrayal of a community that hungers for a time when it is less vulnerable to foreign markets. All the while, the community is growing weary from the hype promoting the Port of Prince Rupert as the gateway to Asia.

After reading the numerous accounts, it’s hard to write anything new about ‘The Port’. It is the deepest year-round ice-free Pacific port on the continent. It’s also North America’s closest port to China: by sea, Prince Rupert is one day closer to Shanghai than Seattle-Tacoma (SeaTac) and two days closer than the California ports of Long Beach or Los Angeles. In a time-is-money age, the Prince Rupert proposal is the quickest, most fuel efficient logistics solution available to the Shanghai – Chicago corridor where 70 percent of Prince Rupert’s container traffic winds up.

Geography aside, it’s the involvement of the Canadian National Railway (CNR) that makes the Prince Rupert proposal so compelling. The CNR constructed North America’s first direct ship-to-rail container transfer facility at the port. With ‘ship-to-rail’ in place, containers stay on-site, or dwell, less than a day before moving to market.  Once on the move, the trip to Chicago takes only 95 hours. The trip to Memphis 133.  (Source: Memphis Daily News)

The traffic at the Port of Prince Rupert is down. The numbers aren’t all that surprising. We’re in the midst of the greatest economic “event” that the world has seen since the Great Depression. However, the Q1 2009 numbers showed some interesting positives – while tonnage was down by nearly 25% “container tonnage nearly doubled, chemicals increased 84%, while grain and log shipments held their own”. (Source: www.hktdc.com)

The Prince Rupert experience is echoed up and down the coast. In January, SeaTac reported that it was “losing its containerized trade more rapidly than its West Coast counterparts, ending 2008 with staggering declines.” (Source: http://www.seattlepi.com/business/397869_port29.html). In July, the L.A. Times reported that “[T]rade at international ports is on track to drop more than 10% this year, one of the steepest declines ever, according to a new maritime industry report.” (Source: http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-ports8-2009jul08,0,53929.story). In June, container traffic at Long Beach was reported to be down over 12%.

I’m not breaking out the rose colored glasses but I think it’s fair to say that we’re not poorly positioned. The Canadian economy didn’t get hit as hard as that of the US and the province of British Columbia is not on the verge of a financial meltdown, unlike California.

The Port of Prince Rupert is less than 2 years old and, despite some negative numbers this year, I’m not put off. SeaTac, Los Angeles and Long Beach are all in some stage of rebuilding their aging facilities or are seeking funding to do so. For all purposes, the Port of Prince Rupert is brand new. Further, our brand-new port has access to 1,000 hectares (over 2,200 acres) of land for future use. By contrast Vancouver, SeaTac, Los Angeles and San Diego are all hemmed in by commercial development.

I invite the people of northwest BC to hang-in-there. The Port of Prince Rupert is, for now at least, a baby port and it will take some time before Prince Rupert takes a bite out of Long Beach – where, even with traffic down in June, it handled more containers in a month (551,680 TEUs, June 2009) than the capacity of Prince Rupert (500,000 TEUs) in a year. Given current world-market conditions, the growth game in Prince Rupert is one of market share and one has to speculate whether Long Beach hasn’t reached it’s optimum threshold. With high dwell times, 6 days, the Prince Rupert proposal can conceivably move a shipment from Shanghai to Chicago before a competing shipment has left Long Beach. That’s a very strong value proposition.

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