Friday, January 21, 2022
Jan. 21, 2022

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For the Port of Vancouver USA, Disruption Means Stability

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In my mind, “disruption,” the theme of this year’s Clark County Economic Forecast, has many meanings. One meaning, of course, implies a negative understanding, such as an inconvenience or interruption. In today’s business world, disruption can also be a positive attribute, in the form of innovation and new ideas.

The mission of the Port of Vancouver USA is to provide economic benefit to our community by providing leadership and creating jobs in marine, industrial and waterfront development. The port delivers on this promise by employing nearly 4,000 people and generating $3.8 billion annually in economic activity in Southwest Washington. When the pandemic took hold last year, it was imperative that the port, deemed as an essential business, remain steady and consistent.

Our customers, tenants and our community were depending on us. Many of the innovative and “disruptive” tactics employed by our dedicated port staff helped us weather the storm, leading to one of the most successful years in the port’s 108-year history.

DISRUPTIVE DIVERSIFICATION

We saw many of our sister ports across the country struggle because travel was impacted at airports and global supply chain disruptions affected port activity.

Leadership at the Port of Vancouver has for many years focused on diversity of cargo as a strategy to provide stability during fluctuating market conditions. This positioned us to be ready for the realities of 2020. We specialize in bulk and break-bulk cargoes—think grains, soybeans, steel slabs and wind blades—items that don’t easily fit into cargo containers. Our expertise in moving these commodities allowed us to prosper when other ports struggled.

Last year, the port moved a record number of commodities including 3 million metric tons of grain and more than 70,000 automobiles. Wind components also have made a significant impact. The port handled more than 3,000 components, more than any other West Coast port. Over the summer, the longest wind turbine blades ever to enter the West Coast of the U.S. came through the port. This year we anticipate more wind components and are forecasting another strong year.

DISRUPTIVE RESILIENCE

Like all businesses, we were dealt some challenges in 2020. Once the pandemic hit, we had to adjust—and this tested our agility and flexibility to manage through the crisis. Fortunately, the proactive groundwork we did in 2019—completing our Business Continuity and Resiliency Plan (BCRP) and closing gaps—better prepared us to manage crises in 2020.

The BCRP allowed us to be proactive in adjusting our operations to keep our business up and running. Some of our actions, which we are continuing to implement, include remote working for the administrative staff along with modified schedules for operations and security staff. At our administration office, we installed sanitizing stations, temperature scanners and a system to track staff working in the building—a vital tool for COVID-19 contact tracing.

We quickly secured personal protective equipment (PPE) and established protocols to protect our operations, outside contractors and longshore workers. Commission meetings pivoted to Zoom, staff meetings are conducted virtually, and the port’s COVID-19 Response FAQ webpage is updated regularly.

Another aspect of our resiliency plan was to proactively support our tenants and customers. Assisting our more than 50 industrial tenants through this crisis continues to be of utmost importance to us. Our commercial and economic development teams conducted targeted outreach to our tenants and customers to understand potential impacts to their operations and business.

Early in the pandemic, auto dealerships struggled to move inventory. When Subaru needed to store excess autos arriving from Japan, we supported their need for additional property until the supply chain was flowing again. In October, we received the most Subarus on one ship—more than 3,300 vehicles—demonstrating that the auto market was rebounding. We continue to engage with our tenants to help connect them with resources and to support them with any challenges they may still be encountering.

When pandemic restrictions cancelled our popular public tours and lecture series last spring and summer, we created a workaround: a virtual port presentation. This video includes a port overview similar to the one given at the beginning of each port tour. We invite you watch this video on our website to learn about the many interesting aspects of the port—all happening right here in Vancouver.

DISRUPTIVE INNOVATION

Although 2020 was a tale of disruption, we addressed disruption head on through innovation and preparation. As one of the bedrocks of our community, the Port of Vancouver USA provided steady jobs, development and growth for Clark County during one of the most challenging years in our lifetime.

We are approaching this year with cautious optimism. While we have a good story to tell about our success in 2020, we do not take it for granted. Last year’s achievements demonstrated that the port plays a critical role in providing economic stability for our community, especially during a time of uncertainty and turbulence. My wish for this new year is that this story brings you a sense of hope in knowing that we are working hard to help maintain economic strength, prosperity and possibilities in Vancouver and the region.

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