Business Trends

North American and Canadian Ports Update, by Colliers International

File Type: Free Content, Article
Release Date: February 2014
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Cargo ship

“Biggie-sized” ships (those being built to travel through the soon-to-be expanded Panama Canal, also known as post-Panamax ships) and other factors are converging to make ports “an even more critical concern for the United States economy and industrial real estate markets,” notes Colliers International’s “2H 2013 North American Port Analysis.”

Subtitled “Biggie-Size It,” the report, written by Colliers Chief Economist K. C. Conway, comments that “an increasingly global supply chain and the movement of container ships approximately three times the size of those that today make passage through the canal will bring major changes to North American ports and inland transportation systems.”

Those “other factors” include:

  • growth in e-commerce
  • evolving logistics
  • the on-shoring and near-shoring of manufacturing to the U.S. and Mexico
  • advances in oil shale extraction technology that have led to a U.S. energy boom
  • ongoing labor strife among transportation workers, and
  • legislative changes.

The report offers updates on port upgrade projects now underway and examines the implications of unresolved labor, legislative and environmental issues.

It also reveals some emerging port winners and losers. The ports of Baltimore, Md.; Charleston, S.C., Cleveland, Ohio; Houston; Norfolk, Va.; Savannah, Ga.; Tacoma, Wash.; and Tampa, Fla. have emerged from the last half of 2013 with winning strategies, while the ports of Portland, New York and Long Beach have emerged as losers.

So, what are the top priorities for North American ports? The Colliers report cites three:

  1. Post-Panamax readiness;
  2. Expansion of intermodal capabilities and infrastructure; and
  3. The ability to support duel-fuel (liquefied natural gas/diesel) vessels.

The Canadian National Rail Company (CN Rail), it notes, has a Class I rail connection from Prince Rupert Port Authority to the Port of Mobile, Ala., one of the biggest deep water ports in North America. This is the only connection between Canada/the Northern Pacific Coast and the Gulf Coast. It allows Asian shippers to bring cargo and containers to the central U.S. without paying various taxes or using International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) dock labor. The connection is growing in importance as Mobile and Prince Rupert are considered among the faster-growing ports in North America.