Pop-Quiz, Hotshot: Guess One of Washington’s Fast-growing Ports

One of Washington’s ports has the largest cold storage facility north of L.A. It’s also the largest exporter of soybean meal on the West coast, and is one of the fastest growing automobile exporters in the country. C’mon, State of Trade loyal readers, you know your trade stats…impress me with your knowledge by telling me which one I’m referring to!

Wow, you’re right: it’s the Port of Grays Harbor in Aberdeen, WA! Very impressive guess, but that’s why you’re State of Trade blog readers.

I ask this question because I had the chance to observe this trade success story firsthand when I traveled last week to see the Port’s exciting growth. Private investment has boomed over the past few years – $200 million since 2008 – allowing the Port to improve rail access and infrastructure and diversify exports. While the Port of Grays Harbor was known only for log exports for many years, it’s now a major exporter of automobiles, soy meal and bulk liquids. Thanks to increased exports, the Port is driving much-needed job and economic growth in a community where unemployment has hovered around 12 percent.

The port tour was so informative and exciting that I’d love to share a few of the lessons I took away.

  1. It’s not all about containers.

When we think of import-export at a marine port, containers are usually the first thing that comes to mind: “things that go in boxes that go on ships,” as WCIT President Eric Schinfeld likes to call it. Yet a significant and growing percentage of our state’s trade is non-containerized goods. The Port of Grays Harbor has leapt at this opportunity; for example, Pasha Automotive Services, located at the Port, is on track to export 100,000 cars in 2013. As a result of their rapid growth, Pasha has created 130 local jobs over the last four years. Seventy-five percent of the cars exported from the Port of Grays Harbor are headed to China, and the rest are bound for other destinations in Asia such as Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Singapore, or Brunei (many of which are part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership regional trade agreement negotiations, which is a great example of why TPP matters to Washington state). During our visit we got to see cars being loaded on a barge for export:

Pasha usually exports 500 to 600 cars a day!

2. Washington’s strategic location makes us a gateway to the world

An interesting fact about the Port of Grays Harbor is that the majority of their exports are “pass-throughs,” or goods coming from other states. Cars and soybean meal from the Midwest arrive on trains at the Port, where they are loaded on barges for export around the world. When we asked why so many more companies are choosing to export through the Port of Grays Harbor, the answer was location, location, location (and efficiency!). Ships can reach the open sea in only 1.5 hours, which can sometimes save companies two days of travel time compared to other ports. Washington state’s proximity to Russia and Asia also make it an ideal export gateway.

We all know exports create jobs in our state, but many of us assume the exports are Washington state products.  It’s important to remember that pass-through exports also create a significant number of jobs in our state. In fact, last year $7.6 billion of pass-through goods were exported from Washington! The Port of Grays Harbor’s success story has made it clear that when we invest in our port and freight mobility infrastructure, companies are eager to choose Washington as their export gateway.

3.       International trade drives the economy when times are slow

We’ve heard the phrase “95% of customers live overseas” so often that to many of us it has become cliché, but our trip to the Port of Grays Harbor reminded me how important it is. When many companies were losing jobs during the recession, the Port of Grays Harbor was growing, thanks to their rapidly increasing exports to Asia. In a town that is known for high unemployment, the Port has become a source of growth and optimism. In fact, Pasha Automotive at the Port believes they can double employment in two years, all thanks to consumers around the world eager to buy American products. The Port of Grays Harbor truly is a shining example of why trade matters to Washington!

 

So, there’s a little Port of Grays Harbor trivia and insight for you. And you’re so good at it that we’re going to nominate you for Washington State Trade Jeopardy. Not sure when that will actually become a television show (Trebek hasn’t returned our calls), but in the meantime you should probably keep checking out the State of Trade blog on a regular basis. That way, you’ll be ready to say, “I’ll take Non-Containerized Exports for $500, Alex!”

 

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