|Port Metro Vancouver CEO Robin Silvester delivers his annual address to The Vancouver Board of Trade on Dec. 7, 2012. Photo by Sara Borck Photography. |
By Jeff Clowers
On Dec. 7, Robin Silvester, President and CEO of Port Metro Vancouver, delivered his annual address to The Vancouver Board of Trade, focusing on the core issues of sustaining growth and balancing land use needs in the Lower Mainland.
As the global economy continues its recovery, Port Metro Vancouver, Canada’s largest and busiest port, is an ever-stronger economic force, said Silvester, setting new cargo records in 2012 while planning for a sustainable future together with its neighbouring communities.
Every day, $200 million in goods is traded through the Port, connecting Canada to 160 world economies and generating $6.1 billion in wages and $10.5 billion in annual GDP. But Silvester said his organization’s impact goes beyond that.
“Port Metro Vancouver is Canada’s largest and most diversified port and in terms of export tonnage. But we can’t simply measure our impact in terms of cargo, as important as that is,” said Silvester.
“To give you an idea of how important the Port is to this community, think of it this way. One in 12 working people in the Lower Mainland earns a living because of Port-related business. One in 12. That’s 80,000 jobs in this region – not to mention the hundreds of thousands of jobs the Port helps support across the nation. The question you need to ask is, ‘how do [we] build on this strong base towards sustainable prosperity?’”
The answer? In a word: collaboration.
“Through collaboration, our industry guaranteed market and labour stability with the signing of a historic eight-year collective agreement with our longshore workforce and the effects are known worldwide,” said Silvester. “On my recent trip to Asia, business leaders told me workforce stability underwrites our competitive advantage. That’s proof of collaboration at work.”
Back at home in Vancouver, Port Metro is also boosting efficiency and reliability through groundbreaking service agreements with major rail partners and container terminals.
“We are working with our partners in the trucking sector to reduce turn times, speed up services, and ensure the best use of our transportation network. I am pleased to report that more than 300 trucks have been outfitted with GPS units to track and reduce their movement through the Gateway, minimizing our impact on the port communities where we operate. And next year we will add 700 more, providing better data to all of our customers and stakeholders, creating a platform for further improvement. Again, collaboration at work.”
But not everything is looking as promising in the eyes of Port Metro. A lack of industrial land to create jobs has become a growing concern.
“Without a secure industrial land base, we simply can’t compete for new investment and new jobs: jobs for us now and jobs for the next generation,” said Silvester. “Industrial land is where jobs — good jobs — are nurtured and grow, and it’s critical to strengthening our place in the global economy.
“In the Lower Mainland we already have some of the lowest vacancy rates and most expensive industrial land anywhere in the country and the problem is getting worse. In the last thirty years, Vancouver has lost 187 hectares of industrial land; Richmond has lost 320; Burnaby 706; and Surrey, which in recent years has been much more business focused, has lost 1,771 hectares of industrial land over the last 30 years. In total, that’s 3,000 hectares of industrial land that we’ve lost in less than two generations, costing us jobs and economic opportunity.”
Silvester believes what’s needed is a plan that starts by recognizing that there is a serious problem and taking steps to address it.
“When you think about it, the problem we have today is similar to a problem identified by a previous generation when it came to agricultural land. Back then, they looked to the future and said if action was not taken, then the Lower Mainland would lose its capacity to grow food, so the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) was born.
“The ALR was controversial when it was established and remains so in some circumstances today, but, since coming to British Columbia some 5 years ago and working in the Port industry, I have come to appreciate the importance of the ALR in a way that perhaps I didn’t when I first arrived.
“To that end, I believe that it’s time we consider applying the same principle to Industrial Land as we do to Agricultural Land. A concept of an ‘Industrial Land Reserve’ or a ‘Jobs Land Reserve’: land that is set aside – like agricultural land – for industrial use. Not piece by piece, municipality by municipality, but on a provincial basis, with the broader public and economic interest in mind.
“A successful Industrial Land Reserve would not only protect the land we have, but also look at innovative ways to reverse the damage already done -- building mechanisms to create and incentivize the creation of new land to serve a growing province.”
Silvester realizes that right now, it is simply an idea, but he believes it is an idea whose time has come to be debated.
“We need to take this conversation to the next level. Because if we are going to support trade and create jobs, if we are going to build towards a future where a strong economy, a clean environment and healthy communities go hand-in-hand, then we must collaborate on solutions to common problems and lay the groundwork for resilient and shared prosperity.'
"A sustainable prosperity.”
For more information, read Silvester’s presentation: Creating sustainable prosperity.