Port's Paulson pleased with what he’s leaving

Outgoing executive director sees situation in good shape

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter

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photo“In 2009, we were No. 1 in the U.S. for handling wind energy (components). In 2011, we handled more.” Larry Paulson, Retiring executive director, Port of Vancouver

(/The Columbian)

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Achievements, compensation, by the numbers

Larry Paulson, whose last day as head of the Port of Vancouver is today, has been a part of or overseen the completion of a multitude of projects in his 20 years with the port — 13 as executive director.

Because the port has diversified its project cargos, Paulson said, the past four years have been some of the best in terms of growth. “In 2009, we were No. 1 in the U.S. for handling wind energy (components),” he said. “In 2011, we handled more.”

Here are just some of the numbers and projects that illustrate Paulson’s tenure with the port:

• Annual cargo tonnage increased by nearly 1 million tons per year, and the port added 100 vessel calls per year.

• The Columbia River navigation channel was deepened from 40 feet to 43 feet.

• Terminal infrastructure projects were completed, including improvements to Terminal 2 to handle heavy cargo; Terminal 4, to handle Subaru auto imports and exports, and acquisition and development of Terminal 5.

• Three cranes — including North America’s two largest mobile harbor cranes — were purchased.

• The former Rufener property — now targeted for development as the Centennial Industrial Park — was purchased.

• Many companies joined the port’s base of maritime and industrial customers, including Glacier Cement, Pacific Coast Shredding, Tristar Transload, IMS Electronics, Keyera Energy, Sapa Profiles, Farwest Steel. BHP Billiton plans to set up shop, too.

• Sustainability practices were increased, including establishment of the Vancouver Lake Watershed Council, development of a wetland mitigation bank and cleanup of environmental contamination caused by historic landowners.

Compensation

At the end of his tenure with the port, Paulson drew a salary of $170,568.

He accrued 600 unused vacation hours, for which he’ll receive $49,200.

All of his port benefits, including his $500 per month car allowance for business mileage racked up within a 20-mile radius of the port’s headquarters, will end as of today.

Here is a summary of the benefits he received:

• Medical, dental, vision: $1,129.16 per month.

• Deferred compensation plan, under which the port contributes pre-tax money to Paulson’s retirement.

In 2011: $24,779

2012: as of today, when benefit ends, $26,652

• Other benefits include employer-paid Health Reimbursement Arrangement and a tax-deferred supplemental savings plan. Paulson is also part of the state Public Employee Retirement System.

Today is Larry Paulson’s last day as chief of the Port of Vancouver. He’ll leave the rail-focused port with plenty of projects finished and with the port’s signature economic-development initiative well under way.

Executive director of the port since 1999, Paulson, 65, said he’s confident the port will secure a roughly $80 million loan from the Federal Railroad Administration to complete that initiative -- the $150 million West Vancouver Freight Access project.

“Ask Todd (about it) in about two or three months,” he said, suggesting that his successor, Todd Coleman, will have good news about the loan then.

The rail project, to be completed by 2017, is under construction and will eventually add 28 miles of track to speed cargo and handle more of it.

The largest capital project in the port’s 100-year history, officials estimate it will create at least 1,000 new, permanent jobs and more than 4,000 temporary construction jobs.

The shift in leadership comes as the Vancouver port welcomes new industrial tenants, such as Farwest Steel, and continues to negotiate a deal to land a potash export operation run by Australian mining giant BHP Billiton.

The Columbian recently spoke with Paulson, an attorney and retired brigadier general with the Oregon Air National Guard, about his work at the port, handing the reins to Coleman, and his own future.

His comments are edited for brevity and clarity.

What’s your single greatest accomplishment as CEO of the Port of Vancouver?

It’s a two-fold answer. I think the greatest accomplishment is the WVFA (West Vancouver Freight Access) project, in terms of the total investment and what I think will be the return on investment -- that’s huge. I make it a two-part response, because we don’t do it without the people, the team we’ve been able to put together here who have really done the spadework right down to figuring out how to get the trains east and west underneath the railroad bridge and open up the Boise Cascade property for longer-term waterfront development, too.

What do you consider to be your biggest failure?

The IDD levy (the port’s 2007 Industrial Development District tax levy, a failed attempt to raise $78 million over six years for rail and other development). We felt we needed to act, probably too quickly, in terms of an opportunity we had to develop the Columbia Gateway property. We went out without really providing enough information to the community. There was a lot of confusion about that. I don’t think people understood that there was a six-year cap on that, that we could not extend. That said, we needed to do more explanation. … I took the message back that this community did not want to pay any more taxes, and we coined the phrase “pay as you grow,” and that’s what we’ve done.

What advice have you given your successor, Todd Coleman?

He’s been with us for 11 years, seven years as my deputy. (Todd’s) an engineer. During that (seven years) he took on an MBA program and finished it at WSUV. … He’s gone out of his way not only to prepare himself by on-the-job experience but (to) add that icing on the cake, if you will, with (additional education).

I am perhaps more comfortable in the outside part of the port, the public relations part. He has good talent there and he’ll have to grow that to a certain extent. He will be a little bit more internally focused right now, and that’s probably a good thing because we’re in the middle of this significant (freight access) project. … I’ve told him to be himself. Be comfortable in your own skin, maintain credibility with the commissioners and the staff, and I have every confidence he will.

What will you do after you retire from the port?

Between my wife (Ruth Waite) and me, we have 11 grandchildren, going on 12. I’ve got a son who’s in the process of adopting a little girl out of China. … We’ve got some travel plans. But to get to your question of the community, we’re staying -- we’re committed to Vancouver. I’m on the public facilities district board for the city. I’m on the Freight Mobility Strategic Investment Board for the state as a port representative and will continue that term through 2014. I’m on the United Way board … and I’ve had some conversations with Columbia Credit Union, too. I sit on a couple private boards, too.

What do you read to stay informed?

I’m eclectic. I read a lot of different things. Right now, my son gave me a book on adoption, how the family handles adoption. In my (law) practice I did 200 to 300 (adoptions). Read “Moneyball” recently, read a couple other books by Michael Lewis. This last one (“Boomerang”) is on the countries that are struggling with the economic crisis. I read just some fun fiction, too. I just finished a Michael Crichton book.

What’s the last movie you saw?

My wife and I enjoy movies, so we go to a fair amount. We stream them in occasionally, too. But (my wife) has a 9-year-old granddaughter, so we took her to see “Hugo” in 3D. We try to see most of the Academy Award-nominated ones, too. I thought (“Hugo”) was fun. What a nice story.

What else do you do for fun?

I’m a regular workout person, probably four or five days, mornings usually, at Lake Shore Athletic Club. I’m a reader. I’ve always got at least one book going, occasionally one in the car, too, on disc.

Aaron Corvin: 360-735-4518; http://twitter.com/col_econ; http://on.fb.me/AaronCorvin; aaron.corvin@columbian.com.