By Peter Gabany

After the crash of global economies in 2008, Valport was coming off one of its best years in the market. The partners of its management team, charged with the growth and prosperity of Port of Valleyfield, considered the future cautiously, but with optimism. One principle that Frank Dunn, President of Valport, practices is flexibility. “We can’t be all things to all people, but we had better find solutions to our customers’ problems if we wish to remain in this business,” Dunn says.

The port of Valleyfield is located near the Port of Montreal, the largest Canadian port for Eastern Canada. All of the larger Canadian ports are well positioned for containerized cargo. Valleyfield, located about 40 minutes south of Montreal is situated along the Seaway, and firmly entrenched in the crosshairs of a buzzing economy. The Beauharnois-Salaberry Economic Region –the area encompassing the Port of Valleyfield – has recently come into its own as a result of new infrastructure and the addition of one of the largest railway terminals to be built in Canada in recent history.

The network of roadways, including the 401 (Montreal-Toronto corridor), Highway 20/40 – for getting into heart of Montreal, the 417 – a rapid corridor from Montreal to Ottawa, and the newest addition, Autoroute 30 – connecting the Beauharnois-Salaberry region to all entry points of Montreal, allows for easy access to and around the City. However, in many cases it’s not the city that requires access, but the region around it that is host to many manufacturing enterprises which require access to flexible and efficient domestic and International shipping.

Flexibility, such an imperative in this economy, is further strengthened through the addition of an all new CSX rail terminus ready for service this year. In the world of logistics, “multimodal” is an answer to any cargo opportunity and now with all major railways accessing the region and, more specifically, the port, there is little that Valport can’t accomplish in the management of moving goods from one place to another.

What is it though, that the Port City of 20,000 has to offer to a global community? Oddly, “size”. Every major port city is home to prime waterfront real estate, and offers access to automated systems, large gantry cranes, acres of storage but, on the downside, is typically part of a congested network of urban road infrastructure. In that same picture is a waterfront that is curtain-stacked with numerous containers to obstruct any notion of a waterfront. Port of Valleyfield, on the other hand, offers unobstructed connectivity to domestic and international road, rail, water and air networks.

“We can’t compete with Montreal, Quebec and Toronto in container handling,” says Frank Dunn, “but we can certainly build on what we know best – breakbulk cargo – after all, not all things come in a box.” The management team noted that increased levels of activity in the North, mostly associated with resource development, would increase demand for breakbulk cargo moving north.

Cornwall, Ottawa and other centres close to Valleyfield present yet another avenue for expansion for food imports, consumer packaged goods and other containerized cargoes. “We had to find a way to manage growth and being able to offer the specialized services our diverse market opportunities present us,” Dunn continues. “We reviewed our facility capabilities and identified the areas that required attention to address the opportunities we identified.”

Valport has a number of large warehouses, 200,000 square metres, and boasts a large crating and packaging facility. The Port recently removed some underutilized, dated structures and replaced them with paved staging/lay-down areas adjacent to the existing docks and proposed dock expansion. It repurposed a building as a “Fabrication and Assembly” centre. It erected new warehousing, and this year developed phase one of a new reefer depot. All of this compliments its vital marshalling and cross docking operations with rail access.

Valport worked to streamline and advance each business area as a “Business Centre”. A Crating and Packaging Centre, a Cross-docking and Consolidation Centre, a Fabrication and Assembly Centre, a Reefer Depot and Warehousing Centres each have a stand-alone business model. Each one of these areas goes beyond being “value-added” service for customers to their own business viability model. Russell Kerr, Key Account Manager, says, “This answers several challenges we face. With the new centres filled for specialized purposes it allows us to maintain staff year round, and we no longer face the scramble at the beginning of the season to find qualified staff. Further, we have opened up new markets as we did last winter as our Crating and Packaging Centre was filled with “cookie sheets” being readied for air transport. With proximity to Autoroute 30, Montreal’s Mirabel Air Freight terminal is only about 45 minutes away using uncongested roadways.

This move has worked wonders at negotiating new business for Valport Maritime Services – both International and Domestic. Freight Forwarders have brought new work to the port as have a number of turnkey engineering firms. In 14 days Valport unloaded ships, staged and loaded heavy-lift rail cars and some 80 transports destined for the Detour Gold Mining project in Northern Ontario. This project alone saw many firsts in the port including the unloading/loading of the world’s largest ore crusher originating from Bilbao, Spain.

This project helped forge relations for Hatch Engineering and the Baffinland Iron Ore Mining project. Valport has been on this program for two years loading out 180,000 tonnes of cargo in nine weeks, utilizing nine ships in the first year and another six ships loaded with new cargoes and back-hauling retrograde. Dunn says, “Another area we have been working on is steel imports.” “We have been able to receive and handle plate, ingot, rebar and roll steel. Our people are utilising the Fabrication and Assembly Centre and the lifting capacity of the two 25-tonne cranes to quickly offload and temporarily store steel until we can load them out to production destinations. The throughput is enhanced, the steel protected from the elements and our customers seem quite pleased.”

So now what? “It may be our 20th year, and we certainly have learned a great deal, but just like everyone else, we need to continue the courting of new business,” says Dunn, “The difference is that today we are collaborating even stronger with our regional colleagues – from freight forwarders and carriers, railways, air freight, warehousing and transport. As we work together, we look forward to continued growth.”