The powerful impact of a port on Oregon business

How One Port Could Have a Big Impact on Many Oregon Businesses

nfib-logoBy Oregon NFIB,

The boom of global trade in recent years has led international companies to think bigger, and that means delivering their goods to bigger ports. Unfortunately for Oregon’s businesses, that often causes them to skip out on the state altogether.

For international deliveries, the state relies on the Port of Portland, which is considered midsize. The terminal got a good deal of negative attention earlier this year after losing the business of Hapag-Lloyd, which was previously the port’s second-largest carrier.

With carriers like Hapag-Lloyd now making Seattle or Vancouver their closest stop, Oregon small business owners are required to make the several hour-long trip up that way to pick up their goods. It’s not just time owners are losing, but their bottom line.

Spokane Seed Company, for example, has spent 30 percent more to transport its goods to Seattle and Tacoma, a Wall Street Journal article reports. And truck trips up to Puget Sound shipping terminals can be four times as expensive as a trip to Port of Portland.

NFIB State Director Anthony Smith says that it’s important to differentiate between what the state of Oregon has the power to change and what it doesn’t. Oregonians can’t change the location of Portland: it will always be 100 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean, and that will always be more inconvenient for shipping companies.

But Smith notes that something that is within people’s power is the state of the dock’s labor force. Recent years have seen an ongoing dispute between dockworkers and the terminal operators, which got especially ugly as dockworkers were accused of intentionally slowing down work—resulting in a backlog of unpacked cargo—until they received a better deal.

South Korea-based shipper Hanjin ceased operations in Portland earlier this year in part because of the labor dispute problems.

Dockworkers and their employers finally signed a new labor agreement in February, but even so, it will take a while for the port to earn back the trust of manufacturers and retailers.

“When trying to decide between Portland or a competing port, international traders are going to look at the record and determine that this sort of instability is bad for business,” Smith says. “We can’t force people to do business with this port, but we can do what we can to make it more attractive.”

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