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Last year, there were 245 ship arrivals at the port, up from the previous record of 230 set in 2014. Total tonnage was 3.8 million metric tons in 2015, the second best in a decade.
Business at the port has been on the upswing since 2009 when only 100 ships called at the port.
“Generally speaking, shipping to and from the port has been an increasing trend,” said Port Director Richard Aschieris.
Last year, low sulfur coal continued as the leading export with more than one million metric tons leaving the port compared to the 1.74 million metric tons shipped to foreign buyers in 2014. That may change this year, though.
“Because of monetary exchange rates and shifts in global demand, we’re looking at spot shipments in 2016 for coal,” Aschieris said.
The Port of Stockton is a diversified transportation center where ships, trucks and rail converge. It encompasses 2,000 acres and, as Aschieris says, if you watch what happens at the port, you can tell how the economy is doing.
“We’re a part of the economy and things happen at the port first,” he said. “Our shipments reflect activity in the economy and various business sectors as we ship consumer goods, steel, fertilizer and cement, all of which reflect construction, what consumers are buying and agriculture.”
The port specializes in bulk shipping. Right now, rice is among the major products leaving the port. Fertilizer is a major import.
“Fertilizer in dry and liquid form is important as we provide 90 percent of those fertilizers used by farmers in the San Joaquin Valley,” Aschieris said.
He expects fertilizer to remain strong, accompanied by an “uptick” in cement and steel, Aschieris said cargoes like steel provide a lot of jobs to unload even if the tonnage isn’t as high as previous years.
“The cargo mix changes continually and the only constant in this regard is change,” he said.
The port has leased 97 percent of its existing warehouse space and over the last seven years, investments by a diversified cross-section of private businesses totaled $2.3 billion, despite the recession. During that same period the port and its businesses also generated 5,500 jobs.
According to Global Trade Magazine, the Port of Stockton is one of America’s top 20 niche ports, suited for handling special cargo in addition to the usual goods.
“Historically handling the region’s agricultural exports, iron ore exports from Utah to China … exports of minerals, cement, steel and renewable fuels are expected to [help] sustain the port in coming years,” the magazine said.
Ground transportation is enhanced the Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroads.
“It’s said that location is everything, and that’s the case with the port,” Aschieris said. “We’re on the Stockton deepwater ship channel and have access to major freeways, railroads and airports to move our goods.”
A major compliment to the port is its administrative complex, a one-stop-shop where the port publishes tariffs, manages cargoes, assigns berths, supervises cargo activity, furnishes documentation, handles accounting and rate quotes and even provides property management, data processing and police protection to its customers.
“While it’s reasonable to assume things will be different in 2016, the port will adapt because we have a thriving facility and a dedicated staff and board of directors,” Aschieris said.
It will work with the San Joaquin Partnership, city of Stockton, the San Joaquin Council of Governments and the “extremely supportive” Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce to encourage private businesses to locate at the port.
“We’re also working on some infrastructure improvements such as widening roads, building bridges and dredging to make it easier for the private sector to bring their business here,” he said.
The marine highway – a demonstration project that used barges to move cargo – ran for 14 months but was stalled by declining gas prices that made it cheaper to ship on land by truck, the very thing the marine highway was intended to partially replace.
“Environmentally, the marine highway was a great success,” Aschieris said. “It’s still available on an as-needed basis because the infrastructure’s there. We’re now working with the state to see if it qualifies for greenhouse gas reduction funds.”
“It’s a privilege to be here,” said Aschieris, who came to the port 16 years ago. “The future looks good.”