Port of Everett is well-positioned in shipping

Much of business involves following the herd.

Often, if somebody is making money, you want to be there, too, to see if you can’t siphon off some of that cash for yourself.

That’s certainly been the case for the Port of Everett, which has moved into the container shipping business during the past few years as it has seen its bigger neighbors in Seattle and Tacoma make piles of cash in moving containers from around the world onto the nation’s railroads.

But Everett has taken a different tack that might pay off pretty well during the next few years. Or at least it could mean that Everett’s shipping business may not drop as far and as fast as it has for most container ports.

People have stopped buying as many consumer goods these days. That’s hurt Seattle and Tacoma, with their reliance on containers filled with items from China, but it hasn’t had a huge effect on Everett. That’s mostly because the port here isn’t big in that business and has looked for ways to distinguish itself from the other players.

Everett is known for shipping containers that are huge and oversized, nearly entirely for airplane parts assembled in Asia and sent to the Boeing Co. plant in Everett. Boeing has a pretty serious backlog of orders for most planes. It said not too long ago that buyers for planes to be delivered in the next year or so have already secured financing, so that part of the port’s business looks like a lock for that period of time.

Another share of the port’s business is concrete shipped from Asia for construction projects around the Northwest. The port has a large dome that used to be used to store imported alumina, an ore used to make aluminum at a smelter in Montana.

That business fizzled, so the port was happy to sign a deal with Lehigh Northwest Cement Co. in 2006 to fill the dome with concrete to be distributed throughout the area.

Construction has slowed in the Northwest and so has the concrete business, but Everett is seeing growth in another area for which it has become known — shipping equipment and other goods to Russia.

In 2005, the port signed a deal with Far Eastern Shipping Co. (FESCO), which makes regular trips from Everett to Russia to support oil, mining and construction operations.

Carl Wollebek, now the port’s chief operating officer, had spent 10 years trying to develop that business and it looks like its starting to pay off.

Everett regularly ships items including food and clothing for workers, modular housing and refurbished construction equipment to the far east of Russia.

Pacific Terminals of Seattle recently announced it is relocating its Russian division to Everett to be closer to the shipping terminals here.

Pacific is a bonded service that helps customers move cargo through customs.

“Being close to the Port of Everett will immensely increase the number of loads we can process per day in comparison with working from our Seattle location,” said Ilya Pankov of Pacific Terminals.

He said the time and money the company saves by working directly in Everett will definitely help it increase its business here. He plans to get operations moving later this month.

A second company, Construction &Mining Service Inc., also plans to open an Everett facility by leasing a portion of the old Jen-Weld door factory on the waterfront, Wollebeck said. The company, based in Illinois, also has a Seattle operation. It buys and sells machines, parts and attachments all over the world.

The moves by both companies are good news for the port, which has been trying to establish itself as an important hub for shipping goods to Russia.

“Our Russian business has really grown tremendously,” said the port’s Lisa Lefeber. “Most of our business growth has been in goods going to Russia. It’s really a good business there.”

Lefeber noted that cargo stored up for a Russian shipment helped the port set a record for Everett in June by moving 950 containers in one week. That’s not much for Seattle or Tacoma, but its big business for Everett.

“A lot of ports are really struggling right now,” Lefeber said. “Because we’ve diversified, we’ve really been protected from the slowdown so far.”

Wollebek said the port’s Russia business increased by about 30 percent this year.

“It’s mostly for gold and oil, and those aren’t bad businesses to be in,” he said. “We’re not bullet-proof, but we’re pretty well diversified.”

Sometimes there’s big money in just following the crowd. This time, it looks like the port has made a good move by developing its own special niche.

Mike Benbow: 425-339-3459; benbow@heraldnet.com.

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