"There are a lot of things that affect the market, from prices to currency exchanges and anti-dumping duties, that you don’t think will impact business on a consistent basis, but there’s always something that has an impact. Sometimes it’s two or three of those items combined," says Valerie Harris, director of marketing for the Port of Longview.
For businesses to survive in difficult economic conditions, "they have to diversify to grow, or they have to take a step back and simplify to grow. It’s not standard across the board, in my experience," Harris says.
The Port of Longview is pursuing a diversification strategy in response to the sluggish steel market in 2009.
"Steel has been declining over the last couple of years, import markets have been low, the economy has been bad," says Harris. "So we focused on some of the other parts of our business: wind energy, forest products in the form of logs and dry bulk commodities. Diversification has been key.
"Because we handle the break bulk and project cargo, every strategy is different based on the commodity. Bulk-handling requirements are much different than break bulk, project or even steel. A lot of times, the bulk commodities are in and out quickly, and some of the other commodities tend to have some dwell time."
Currently, an export grain terminal is being constructed at the Port of Longview that, once finished, Harris says, will begin working synergistically with import shipments of steel. The export grain terminal is the first facility of its kind built in the United States in more than 25 years and is expected to generate more than 200 construction jobs and more than 50 permanent jobs in the Longview community. The region also expects to see 35 more jobs associated with the increased cargo.
The project is owned by EGT LLC, a joint venture from Bunge North America Inc., ITOCHU and STX Pan Ocean. Estimated capital investment in the facility by EGT is in excess of $200 million, with the Port of Longview constructing the ship dock at a cost of approximately $6 million. The export grain terminal is expected to be online for the fall 2011 harvest.
The Washington Public Ports Association honored the Port of Longview as the 2009 Port of the Year as a result of its work with the export grain terminal.
Broadening its capabilities brings the Port of Longview success and, at the same time, gives its partners and customers more flexibility in their operations. The port has reported back-to-back record years, and it handled 1.5 million metric tons of total cargo in 2009, which was up 12 percent from 2008.
"The growth that we had last year was a result of working with our customers hand in hand on value-added services," says Harris. "Our ability to adapt is incredibly valuable to our customer base. They’re constantly looking for more efficient ways to do things."
She points out that with both the port’s customers and workforce, partnership is always key. "Not making demands but partnering with them to accomplish their goals. We communicate with all parties: the customers, the labor force, the ship lines. We offer customized services to our customers, such as offering extended storage or the ability to perform maintenance and retrofits on site," Harris notes. "One example is that we palletize steel-shipping fixtures for the wind components and load them in containers."
Brown-Strauss Steel, Aurora, Colo., one of the largest structural steel distributors in the West, specializing in wide-flange beams and structural tubing products, has a 15-acre site on the Port of Longview’s property. North American Pipe & Steel, Longview, Wash., has a 35-acre site adjacent to the port. "The Port of Longview gives us incredible advantages in being able to move our inventories up and down the I-5 corridor," North American Pipe & Steel, pointed out in a customer testimonial.
"We moved to the Port of Longview in December 2000 after 16 years at the Port of Portland," Randy Arnold, general manager of Brown-Strauss’ Longview branch, says. "We chose the Port of Longview for its central location, rail and port facilities. The Port of Longview assisted in building our warehouse and provided excellent terms for longevity. The location allows us to service the Seattle and Portland markets daily with company trucks as well as the greater Northwest region.
"As a supplier of structural steel, we rely on rail service to maintain our inventory levels and maximize our inventory turns. The port is served by Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Union Pacific railroads with a rail spur into our facility. We’ve found the Port of Longview and the longshoremen to be excellent partners in our business."
Prepared and poised
The Port of Longview draws on its 80 years of experience to provide efficient marine terminal services. Its eight terminals are poised for future business. In 2009, wind energy showed some strength at the Port of Longview. "We’ve had higher tonnages and more shipments than we originally planned," says Harris. "There were a couple of new customers that came on board with us for the year."
However, she says, "We won’t see much growth in the wind energy market in 2010 at this point. What we will see is a flurry of activity in 2011, 2012 and 2013. What we’ll be doing throughout the rest of this year is looking at our facilities, our equipment, our infrastructure and making sure, as some of the bigger projects get ready to deliver in the coming years, that we’re set and equipped to handle that business."
In addition, the log markets to China and Korea "opened up" in 2009, Harris continues. "A lot of that is due to infrastructure construction and residential construction projects.
"I think the dry bulk commodities here will continue to flow," she notes. "There are some outside influences that helped boost our numbers in late 2009 and into 2010. One of those was a drought in South America. The other was a bumper crop of soybeans in the United States. That enabled the United States to become a net exporter of soybean products, particularly soymeal.
"For the past year and a half, we’ve already begun targeting our next emerging markets," Harris continues. "We can’t wait until we need it to go after it. Efforts are well underway in that area." MM