Nova Scotia

8 tried and true ways to build a container terminal

Twenty years ago, Prince Rupert, B.C., believed its harbour would be a great location for a container terminal and was trying to convince investors. Now it handles 600,000 containers a year. Former mayor Herb Pond explains how they did it.

A former mayor of Prince Rupert, B.C., has some advice for CBRM on getting a container terminal

The Cape Breton Regional Municipality is trying to develop a container terminal in Sydney harbour. A former mayor of Prince Rupert, B.C., explains how the West Coast city did it. (Warren Gordon)

Twenty years ago, Prince Rupert, B.C., was pitching itself as a great location for a container terminal. Today more than 600,000 containers a year move through the West Coast port, which employs 3,000 people. How did they do it?

Herb Pond was the mayor of Prince Rupert for two terms during the container terminal's development and completion.

Here are a few pieces of advice from someone who's been there, done that.

1. Travel with a map and pitch, pitch, pitch

Pond said no one knew where Prince Rupert was and the city's pitch was unusual. Most container terminals are unloading in major centres with cargo for large local markets. Prince Rupert was proposing something different — a "put it on trains and it's gone" system, said Pond.

"Everyone said, 'Look, there's no local market,'" Pond told CBC's Information Morning Cape Breton

"That was actually the Prince Rupert advantage. You're not trying to deal with the congestion of a major urban centre."

2. Who leads the charge?

Prince Rupert's port is run by a port authority formed under the Canada Marine Act. "Credit for the port's success has to go to the port authority's CEO who travelled to pitch the idea," said Pond. 

The former mayor said his role was the "political will." Pond also garnered support from the mayors of other municipalities who would benefit.

3. Get federal, provincial and rail line support

Pond said the federal and provincial governments each contributed about $30 million to help build the container terminal. 

"Also attracting CN (Rail) and their interest," he said. "There had to be significant upgrading and dedication of new equipment."

4. Terminal operator is key

CBRM has given the company Sydney Harbour Investment Partners the exclusive right to market the port for a container terminal. (HPDP)

The operator, Maher Terminals, was vital to the project's success. "The terminal operator that was selected had very strong relationships," said Pond.

Once Maher was on board, Pond said there was immediate interest from customers like Ashley Furniture, Walmart, Mattel and other big clients.

5. Municipality's role

In addition to getting the federal and provincial governments onside, Pond said Prince Rupert's main role was to meet with investors and negotiate favourable property tax rates.

6. Competition

"You're up against existing players, particularly in Halifax," said Pond. "You've got to convince the world there's a business case to be made."

7. Two-way traffic

Pond said Prince Rupert's next big step is filling the containers for their return trip to Asia. "Two-way traffic is critical," he said.

8. Jobs, jobs, jobs

Pond said Prince Rupert is looking at expanding its container terminal again.

"They're now looking at adding 200, 250 longshore jobs. How do we train them? How do we develop that workforce?"

with files from Information Morning Cape Breton