By Tom Peters

With a global network of shipping lines calling on the port of Halifax, the Port can connect shippers to over 150 countries. This global reach is a key factor in attracting national and international clients to use the port for both import and export. 

The port’s geographic location in proximity to Europe, the Suez Canal and the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, plus its many other attributes, position Halifax as a natural gateway to and from North America.

Halifax Port Authority realizes that to maintain and build on this connectivity requires constant outreach to both traditional and emerging markets. Face-to-face contact with customers and potential customers is key in developing relationships – especially in new markets. Halifax Port Authority’s business development team along with terminal operators and CN, collectively coordinate an approach to visit existing and potential customers globally.

To complement its outreach efforts, HPA has hired market representation in key areas where it has identified growth potential. These representatives provide information to potential customers and help build relationships on a daily basis. The combination of HPA business development and in-market representation works very well to help grow contacts and networks in new countries quickly. HPA has offices, agents or representatives around the world in such locations as Vietnam, India, Europe, the U.S., as well as a “virtual” office in Shanghai.

HPA’s connection to China began several years ago when members of its business development team including George Malec, Vice-President, Business Development and Operations, and Alison Winsor, Manager, International Trade Development, started to develop customer relations in that country.

Over time, HPA has been able to build relationships and market knowledge. HPA’s connection to Shanghai has been further fine-tuned with the help of Sam Zhang. Mr. Zhang is an HPA employee, and originally from China. His insight into this country has been extremely valuable in expanding HPA’s network. “He has built upon the relationships and connections we began over five years ago. He can speak the language which has opened more doors for us,” said HPA President and CEO Karen Oldfield.

Business development initiatives in emerging Vietnam have been a definite plus. “We have got a number of success stories specific to Vietnam and we all well know the proof is in the pudding,” Ms. Oldfield said.

Southeast Asia is an important market for Halifax, representing 45 per cent of its business. HPA is working closely with its partners, including CN, to expand its share of this market.

In October, representatives from HPA, Halterm, CN, and others will conduct a joint tour of Southeast Asia where “CN has come to understand that this is a serious market for us,” Ms. Oldfield said. India has also been on the Port’s radar for quite some time but the logistics of doing business in this massive country are difficult with its large population and general congestion. However, HPA is certainly not backing away from India and at some point wants to establish a direct service to Halifax through the Shipping Corporation of India. HPA actually set up its first foreign office in India in 2006 when the Authority signed a memorandum of understanding with Jeena & Company, India’s oldest freight-forwarding firm.

Port of Halifax’s “bridge”  when it comes to India and making connections is A.J. Singh, Chief Commercial Officer at the South End Container Terminal operated by Halterm Container Terminal Limited Partnership. Mr. Singh worked in India in the shipping industry. He will be part of the India leg of the October tour and has been able to set up some beneficial calls, Ms. Oldfield said.

Expansion of HPA’s outreach program could be in the offing and, surprisingly, not in any exotic destinations.

“We have to make fundamental decisions in two areas,” said Ms. Oldfield. “We are looking really hard at a person or agent or representative in the U.S. Midwest,” she said. Paul DuVoisin, HPA’s Vice-President Commercial, based in the U.S., has been paying attention to the U.S. Midwest but Ms. Oldfield says it may be time for a Chicago-based connection.

The second spot is Toronto. “Over the past year we took some shared office space in Mississauga, and we have made an effort to have one of our people there at least one week a month,” she said. That situation is being re-evaluated and may change.

A further outreach extension may be in Western Canada where there is potential to move agri-products to markets through Halifax.

Keeping these vital contacts and establishing new liaisons keeps Port of Halifax connected with its established clients and ready to work with new partners.