Port Authority enjoys record performance

Port of Virginia has completed its sixth consecutive month of profitable operation.

The Virginia Port Authority operates the Norfolk International Terminals, Portsmouth Marine Terminal, Newport News Marine Terminal and the Virginia Inland Port in Warren County, and leases the Virginia International Gateway in Portsmouth and the Port of Richmond.

In a news release, John Reinhart, port authority CEO and executive director, said the port’s operating profit in the first half of fiscal year 2015, which began in June 2014, was $6.2 million, $16.8 million more than the $10.6 million loss in the first half of fiscal year 2014.

Joe Harris, a port authority spokesperson, said the reason for the port’s successful year is because the authority “changed the way it does business.”

“We were terribly inefficient in some areas of our operation for many years,” Harris said. “It wasn’t anybody’s fault, it was just a failure to look within and ask, ‘Just because we’ve always done it that way, does that make it right?'”

Harris said Reinhart has been instrumental in improving port efficiency.

“John really started to look at every aspect of the operation and ask why we did certain things and what kind of profit we were making doing it that way,” Harris said. “By looking at it that way, we could start changing how we do things.”

Reinhart also focused more on customer service, Harris said.

“He made our people in the port more accessible for companies doing business with us,” Harris said. “A company [calls] the person they need to call and they will receive their cell phone number. They can even reach them on the weekend.”

Logistics, such as cranes to move shipping containers, and labor allocation, such as breaking up two tasks among six workers as opposed to having six workers perform one task, are areas Reinhart addressed, Harris said.

In December, the port authority handled 203,276 shipping containers, the eighth month of shipping container volume exceeding 200,000. Harris said while the calendar year 2014 saw the highest volume of shipping containers on record, there is still plenty of work to be done.

“We hope for 2015 to set another record, not just in terms of volume, but in terms of revenue as well,” Harris said.

The Virginia Inland Port saw a 21.4 percent increase in volume in December over December 2013. Harris said the improved economy is a major factor in that increase.

“The companies around the inland port are the beneficiaries of a healthy economy,” Harris said. “One company that comes to mind is Home Depot. As housing begins to show signs of life, the Lowe’s and Home Depots of the world follow suit and we are now seeing that at the port.”

Harris added, “Companies aren’t standing on the sidelines any longer. They are starting to invest and they are confident in their ability to set up and make a profit … so much of what we’re seeing is indicative of an economy that’s showing signs of life.”

The port’s infrastructure attracts many customers, Harris said.

“We have Class 1 railroads serving the inland port, our shipping channels are 50 feet deep on the coast, the deepest on the East Coast, we don’t have any bridges getting in the way of the ships,” Harris said.

Along with a friendly business and labor climate and a “governor and General Assembly who are squarely behind the port,” Harris said one of the best assets for the port is its workforce.

“The federal government graduates a lot of people out of the military and other jobs into private industry and a lot of those folks stay and Virginia and either work for the port or one of the companies that does business with the port,” Harris said.

Virginia is within one day’s driving distance of two-thirds the nation’s population, making its ports a major receiver of goods heading for the interior of the United States, Harris said.

“The ports in New York and New Jersey are double our size, but most of the goods stay in that metropolitan area to serve that population,” Harris said. “Our market is outside of Virginia to those heartland cities, those traditional manufacturing and population centers: Chicago, Cleveland, Louisville, Milwaukee, the list goes on.”

Harris said the port authority tries to maintain a “big-picture mentality” by going to Congress to talk to legislators whose constituents receive goods via the port.

“For example, we’ll talk to representatives of the Commonwealth of Kentucky and say, ‘Hey, we’re here in Virginia, but there’s a Ford plant in Louisville and its parts come to the plant via the port of Virginia,’ and the representative begins to support the port because its performance affects his constituents’ livelihoods,” Harris said.

Other changes between December 2014 and December 2013 performance include:

  • Truck volume was up 13.5 percent
  • Rail volume increased 8.2 percent
  • Barge columns increased 44.3 percent

Contact staff writer Henry Culvyhouse at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or hculvyhouse@nvdaily.com