Port of Prince Rupert president and CEO Don Krusel often had a story for customers, potential clients and “anyone who would listen” more than 10 years ago.
When relaying the details behind why the Port of Prince Rupert is a great place to conduct business and to ship products in and out of Canada, Krusel would list the many advantages: a deep, ice-free and safe natural harbour and easy rail access with the best-run railway line in North America over a flat route, connected to the majority of the population on the continent.
It is also the fastest sailing route from Asia.
But those listeners would often follow up by asking Krusel why, with all those advantages, the port wasn’t advancing.
And that answer, as the president and CEO told Prince Rupert and District Chamber of Commerce luncheon attendees last Wednesday, was because of history.
“History hasn’t been kind to Prince Rupert,” Krusel said.
Starting with the sinking of the town’s hero and founder, Charles Hays, on the Titanic and following with two great wars, multiple depressions and the railways falling into financial receivership, fortune and fame just hasn’t been on the hardy town’s side.
But no more.
“I’d often say something like ‘The Port of Prince Rupert; blessed by geography, cursed by history. But I can stand before you and this community and the port, and say the last 10 years has changed all that and now history is on our side. We are now both blessed by geography and blessed by history,” Krusel said.
The president’s speech to the business leaders in Rupert both took a look back to the days leading up to the opening of the Fairview Container Terminal in 2007 and the years in between, leading to the terminal’s Phase 2 North ribbon-cutting later this year.
“Over the last 10 years Prince Rupert has been one of the fastest growing ports in North America for almost every year,” Krusel said.
“Last year, the Port of Prince Rupert was the third-largest port in Canada by value of trade moving through a port gateway. The ILWU (International Longshore and Warehouse Union) board had 63 people on the board in 2006. They now have 585 and are hiring another 120 before the year is out.”
Twenty-three per cent of the labour force in Rupert is directly employed in moving goods in the community, Krusel said, also stating that in 2006, the port celebrated a profit of just over $100,000 (with annual revenues of $5.2 million). Last year, unaudited statements show a net income of over $20 million, on revenues of $50 million.
“It’s the dirty little secret of the port. Every dollar that we make above our expenses gets invested back into this community in one form or fashion,” Krusel said.
As DP World Prince Rupert completes its $300 million expansion at Fairview, installing three Malacca-max cranes which can handle the largest container ships that traverse international waters and adding a second berth, it will signal the beginning of the next 10 years, which Krusel said will be exciting and eventually, will lead to the ability for Fairview to handle 2.5 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) (capacity is 1.3 million after the expansion).
“Today, we are the third-largest container port in the country and before the next 10 years, we will overtake Montreal as the second-largest container port in this country,” Krusel said.
Not only will Fairview’s capacity continue to grow, but the port has planned $500 million in investment toward growth in the next 10 years, enabling 100 million tonnes of throughput per year. It is currently handling 20 million tonnes.
“Not counting LNG investments, there will be several billions of dollars of private investment needed to make all this happen,” Krusel said.
The port’s president identified three areas where he’s confident this growth can happen: container intermodal business, the energy sector and agricultural products.
Just in the past 10 years, $1 billion of private investment have gone into projects at the port from companies like Pinnacle Renewable Energy, Ridley Terminals Inc., DP World, AltaGas, CN Rail and Canpotex.
“The next 10 years are going to see tremendous continued growth in this port and I’m excited about it and looking forward to it … [Our success hasn’t] occurred because of one individual or organization, it has occurred because of the community and the community’s spirit of what this port and community could do,” Krusel said.