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March 6, 2019

Maine Port Authority chief highlights Portland terminal's growth prospects

Photo / Renee Cordes
Photo / Renee Cordes
Jonathan Nass, CEO of the Maine Port Authority, speaking at today's Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce Eggs & Issues forum, urged Maine businesses to consider shipping from Portland if they’re not already doing so amid an international trade boom and “serious talks” about starting short-sea shipping to New York.

Jonathan Nass, CEO of the Maine Port Authority, on Wednesday urged Maine businesses to consider shipping from Portland if they're not already doing so amid an international trade boom and "serious talks" about starting short-sea shipping to New York.

"What's in the box?" he asked attendees at Wednesday's Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce Eggs & Issues forum while holding up a mini rectangular prop he said was a shipping container. "What's in the box is opportunity."

He also underscored the International Marine Terminal's prospects for further growth, saying, "we have not maxed out at that facility."

In a presentation highlighting the terminal's past, present and future, Nass revealed that $460 million worth of goods moved through there last year. That includes products from 10 Maine counties, such as Aroostook potatoes, Washington County blueberries, and scented candles from Wells in York County.

"This is truly a statewide benefit," Nass said, encouraging all Maine companies to consider shipping from Portland, which he said is not only more cost-effective than transporting by truck — or going through Boston or New York — but also more environmentally friendly. It also offers a gateway to Iceland and other North Atlantic markets.

Later, trade expert Patrick Arnold of Soli DG and the New England Ocean Cluster told Mainebiz, "Now we need to go from 10 counties to 16."

Cranes and cold storage

Showing images of the marine terminal in 2010, 2016 and as recently as Monday, Nass emphasized that the growth was made possible by Icelandic-owned Eimskip, the Icelandic firm that brought container shipping back to Portland more than five years ago and has fostered a number of transatlantic collaborations in a number of areas including education.

Now offering weekly service, Eimskip saw a 46% jump in the number of port calls in Maine's biggest city last year, which also saw the July arrival of a second mobile crane that was built Germany and funded with $3.2 million in state bonds.

Nass said the new machine is now the primary one "and it's working great," and teased that there's an idea for a children's book involving two cranes.

"Some natural stories come out of that," he quipped.

Addressing other plans in the works for some time, Nass reiterated his confidence in a cold-storage facility getting built, though without going into specifics, and disclosed ongoing "serious talks" about launching short-sea shipping between New York and Portland, an option that could be priced competitively with on-land transportation.

As for what's "behind the fence" at the marine terminal today, Nass pointed to a new maintenance building that includes two maintenance bays, as well as a training room that can accommodate 50 people and also be used for events.

"We consider ourselves part of the community," he said, "and it's an asset the community can use with us."

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