Moving the Port and the economy
Recently, I attended a Westside Economic Alliance (WEA) Breakfast Forum, featuring Curtis Robinhold, executive director of the Port of Portland.
I always enjoy the WEA Breakfast Forums, and this one did not disappoint.Curtis is a dynamic speaker. He sported a big smile as he talked about the Port and its team of employees. He shared beautiful architectural renderings of the future airport terminals and the encouraging future outlook. PDX is undergoing a $2 billion renovation. As he talked about the closing of PDX's Concourse A, which was built as a temporary structure in the 1980s, Curtis said he wanted to mark the occasion by having T-shirts made that said, "You can kiss your sweet A goodbye!" (His staff has advised him against this.) As Concourse A closes, the airport is expanding Concourse B to make more room for Alaska and Horizon airlines, which account for more than 40% of the flights at PDX.
When it comes to trade and shipping, Curtis said a lot of higher-value products are going by air now. The Port welcomed Cathay Pacific Airways cargo service to PDX more than two years ago. It transports locally made products, like Nike air soles, as well as crabs, cherries and blueberries, to markets in Asia.
As far as shipping through the marine terminals go, Curtis was very candid in sharing that the Port's marine business has lost money for most of the past 20 years, but he expects this will be the year it turns around. He said container shipping has never been a big business for the Port because 75% of the west coast containers travel through Long Beach, California. The Port instead uses Terminal 6 (T6) as a rail distribution center for containers.
On the positive side, the Port's marine terminals have become a leading west coast exporting point for automobiles. An example of auto exports includes Ford vehicles travelling by rail from the Midwest and getting shipped to China, while Portland-made Daimler trucks are being shipped to Australia. On the import side, Vestas wind towers are offloaded at T6 and headed to Pacific Northwest destinations.
When asked about the impact of the current administration's trade policies, Curtis said it does not help when the executive branch throws uncertainty into the mix. Curtis noted that it's important to lock arms with friends/trade partners — for us, this includes the U.S., Mexico, Canada, Europe, and Japan. He said in the past, we have set the table for a positive trade environment, with former Governor Vic Atiyeh leading the way more than 40 years ago. With the recent uncertainty being created, Curtis said we don't have a seat at the trade table.
On the Westside, the Port operates the Hillsboro Airport. Curtis gave a shout out to Steve Nagy for his work on the Hillsboro Airport Master Plan Update, which he said had an unprecedented amount of public input. According to Curtis, the plan will unlock potential for additional development and employment on the northside of the airport and give the Port space to work with partners to create better places for the community on Cornell Road. When asked about the possibility of commercial air flights departing out of the Hillsboro Airport, Curtis said the airlines don't see the benefit of such a service when there is an international and well-regarded airport less than 20 miles away. He did say the Hillsboro Airport handles about 11 corporate flights a day for employers like Intel and Nike.
When Washington County Commissioner Roy Rogers asked about the Port's views on our current transportation issues, Curtis said the approach needs to be comprehensive, including everything and the kitchen sink — transit, bike, pedestrian, highways, and a bridge that can withstand a significant seismic event. Curtis also supports value pricing (tolls), especially after living in England for six years where he saw it work effectively during high-use periods. He favors a conversation about how to transition from where you want to go with your transportation system from where you are now, with equity top of mind.
If you have the chance to hear Cutis speak, I recommend you do so. He clearly sees the Port as the regional economic development partner that it should be.
Brantley Dettmer is the Chief Operating Officer of Kaiser Permanente's Westside Medical Center in Hillsboro, and board president of the WEA. Learn more about the WEA at: westsidealliance.org