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Exports Up — And Staying Up!
The Port of Longview Experiences Heavy Upswing in Log Exports
By Diane Mettler
The demand for logs and lumber throughout Asia is rising, with no end in the foreseeable future. This is welcome news for the timber industry that has been hard hit by the recession and the lull in new construction.
Big Business for the Port
Evidence of this huge upswing in log exports can be seen at the Port of Longview, Wash., where ship after ship is filled with logs leaving for China and Japan.
"In 2010 log exports increased 166 percent over 2009," said Ashley Helenberg, public affairs manager at the Port of Longview. "2010 was our third consecutive record breaking revenue year, due in large part to the significant increase in logs."
Of the exported logs, 83 % are headed to China. "China was our number one trading partner for export cargo last year with 531,402 metric tons of outbound cargo," says Ashley.
Doug Averett, director of operations, who has been with the Port for 24 years, says the Port has been seeing a mixed variety of species for export, but overall, there seems to be more hemlock bound for China and more fir to Japan.
Getting the Logs Out
The Port says that the import of wind power products is down, which leaves more dock space to move logs. Continuous-berths six, seven and eight are seeing more logs these days than any other commodities.
"We're an operating Port. But when it comes to logs we have arranged for the stevedores to run both the dock and ship side of the operation," explains Doug. "It makes for better continuity for the cargo."
"The Port provides the equipment and the stevedores coordinate trucking companies as well as the suppliers to make sure that the cargo is there on time to load the ship," said Doug.
The logs being loaded onto the ships come from about a 50 to 75 mile radius from various customers across the Pacific Northwest.
Because of the big boom in log exports, other Ports that haven't shipped logs in a while, like the Port of Astoria, are getting back into it. The Port of Tacoma and the Port of Olympia are busy, and even the Ports of Stockton and Eureka, Calif.
China's huge need for wood is the key reason exports are up. But it's not just Longview that's gotten busy shipping logs to China. The Ports of Astoria, Tacoma and Olympia have all seen big increases.
Will It Continue?
Is there an end to China's consumption? Doug says, the Port's customers say it will last quite a while.
"China has an extremely high demand for wood," he says. "Among other factors, Russia recently instituted a high log tariff, which pointed China in our direction."
Things Change Quickly
The Port is excited by the business but knows firsthand how fast things can change.
Logs were the Port's primary cargo until 2002. When Willamette Industries was purchased by Weyerhaeuser, the Port saw a dramatic decline in logs. Cargo that was once exported through the Port was now passing through the Weyerhaeuser docks.
It was a shock to the Port — philosophically and financially. "We had to diversify to fill the void," says Doug, "Which is when we became such a heavy player in the wind cargo industry."
Not up to Full Capacity
To visually get an idea of how much timber is leaving the Port, Ashley and Doug estimate that 39,000 log trucks came through in 2010.
Most of the ships are leaving full, and that's about 5.2 million board feet. It typically takes about five days (one shift) to fill a vessel.
Customers are continually looking for ways to decrease loading time and make operations more efficient. Recently, crews loaded a vessel from both the dock and a log raft, something that hasn't been done at the Port in over ten years.
One way to make things more efficient is having the right equipment. The Port takes care to ensure the equipment they have is kept up, and new machinery is purchased when needed. Right now Doug is actively seeking a log stacker to add to the fleet.
"Everyone is getting into the log business right now, the equipment pickings are slim." It's obvious from Doug's smile that buying new equipment is an enjoyable part of his job.
As far as a type of cargo to export though, Doug says logs are great. "We have the space and experience, which make logs a perfect cargo for the Port of Longview."
The Port of Longview is optimistic that 2011 will be another banner year and isn't too worried about growing pains, either. "We recently purchased 275 acres for future development and are continually making improvements to our facilities to meet growing demand," said Ashley
The thing the Port is most proud of though is bucking a national trend for the last three years. When the rest of the country has been suffering a recession, they have had three years of sustained growth.
"We're lean and mean, and we've always been hungry," says Doug. "That's what we do. We're flexible. When logs came back we were willing, ready, and able to handle that influx of cargo. No matter what the cargos, we're willing to be flexible enough to handle it, and I think that's key to our success."