Vancouver port continues its mission

Boosting industrial, marine growth while creating jobs are top goals

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter

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With regional and international lines of business, the Port of Vancouver maintains a steady mission: boost industrial and marine growth, and create jobs. And, for several years now, it’s been a heady time for the port — the third-largest port in Washington and the second largest on the Columbia River. Counting everyone from China and Japan to Europe and South America as trading partners, the 100-year-old port’s business is 85 percent exports and 15 percent imports. It handles everything from steel and wind turbines to automobiles and bulk minerals. Occupying four miles of waterfront, the port has no encroachment problems from urban development.

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Its 2,127 acres of property includes more than 100 acres ready for development and — on its west side — more than 500 acres planned for future development.

“All of our engineering contemplates continuing to move west,” according to Curtis Shuck, the port’s director of economic development and facilities.

To expand its operations and boost growth, the port is pursuing numerous initiatives. They include building out its $275 million West Vancouver Freight Access rail network, installing infrastructure to make its Centennial Industrial Park attractive to prospective employers and negotiating a deal with BHP Billiton — the Australian mining giant — to build a fertilizer export facility on port-owned land.

The port expects to create 1,000 permanent jobs in the next five to 10 years as it expands its rail capacity, helps existing companies expand their operations, and builds out Terminal 5 — where BHP Billiton plans to export potash.

Slimmed budget

Nevertheless, this year is seeing the port put the brakes on a bit.

The port’s three-member elected Board of Commissioners approved a slimmed-down spending plan for 2013, adopting a budget of $64.01 million, down roughly 20 percent, or about $16 million, from 2012’s budget of $80.18 million.

The board approved this year’s budget without taking advantage of the port’s allowable 1 percent increase in its property tax levy. The port’s 111-square-mile district encompasses 300,000 property taxpayers.

The $16 million reduction comes entirely from the port’s capital projects plan, which is focused on building out its freight rail project. However, the capital spending cut will delay only certain pieces of the long-planned freight rail venture, which remains well under construction, on time and on budget, according to port officials.

The decision to put off some of the freight rail project reflects the port’s cautious approach to this year’s budget as it anticipates either flat or reduced revenue from a variety of sources, including grants and property taxes, and shipping and cargo-handling fees.

Holding down the port’s income is a weak global economy. Nevertheless, the port’s executive director, Todd Coleman, said the port remains “very profitable” and has some prospects this year that could lead to new customers that generate additional revenue to build infrastructure and create jobs.