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  April 11th, 2014 | Written by

Port of San Diego

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Brandy Christian, VP Strategy & Business Development

Joel Valenzuela, Director of Maritime

FTZ No. 153 • 249 total acres

10 berths • 1 million sq. ft. warehouse space • 43-ft. channel

Rail: BNSF

Highways: 5, 15, 8

Top export destinations: South America, Asia, Central America

Top export commodities: Soda Ash, Solar Turbines, Autos


Brandy Christian: I think the unique factor of the Port of San Diego is we operate two terminals, and at the 10th Avenue Marine terminal, we actually have the largest cold storage, at 300 square feet on dock as well as customs and USDA inspection on dock, which makes us rather unique. It’s a really quality, competitive service that other ports can’t offer. At National City, we are primarily lumber and automobiles, and we have about 125 acres that we operate the automobiles on and we actually have the highest level of throughput and efficiency for an auto terminal. We processed about 328,000 autos last year. That is a growing market, the export of American-made cars. Our tenant, Pasha Automotive, they’ve done export business such as Ford to Asia.

One other thing I think would be important to talk about is San Diego in general, not just the port but the region, with your focus being exports. Actually, Joel Valenzuela, our director of Maritime, just walked in. You were mentioning that your audience is manufacturers and a real interest in export. I thought it would be good to talk about the Brookings study on what the San Diego region is doing to expand exports out of San Diego.

Joel Valenzuela: The Brookings Institution is a nonprofit think tank. They have instituted this program that assists high potential metropolitan areas to boost their export capability in support of the administration’s National Export Initiative. So San Diego is part of a number of metropolitan areas they’ve identified in terms of being high potential for export facilitation. We’re something like the 17th largest metropolitan area but we’re only 55th in terms of our ability to export, so there’s a big focus on looking at local manufacturers and service providers and how we can assist them in being more export-ready. A group of regional agencies, including the port, the airport, our economic development corporation and the chambers of commerce have gotten together to put together a program to do just that. So the port itself has traditionally been an importing port. Our base export, historically, has been soda ash, which is a mineral that is mined in the Mojave Desert. It’s railed to the terminal and then exported worldwide. It’s the chemical that’s used for the manufacturing of glass.

Global Trade: Do you know off hand what your import/export split is?

It’s probably 95/5. So there’s a lot of room for growth there. As Brandy has mentioned, we are focusing on our automobile import/exportation facility to kind of help us in that, and then we’re also focusing on local companies such as Solar Turbines. They manufacture gas turbines and export worldwide with the use of Port of San Diego as their port of choice for exporting. It’s sort of a patient approach at identifying which companies are export ready between now and two years from now and finding out what they need to be able to start exporting.

Global Trade: Have the new rules for a company to get established at an FTZ had a very big impact on the Port of San Diego?

No. We handle what we call spot cargo business, which are basically opportunity cargoes that don’t require long-term storage close to the terminal or at the terminal. The other piece of that is we have long term leases with current tenants that within their facilities, they are able to do the importation and exportation only of their goods.

Global Trade: I imagine because the California-Mexico border is the most heavily traded in the world that you really don’t get anybody taking ocean liners to Mexico, do you? Maybe to the southern tip, or no?

We’ve had pilot programs. The biggest challenge is because of our proximity on the land side, most of the commodities are trucked and it’s convenient to do so. For example, a short-sea program that we established had a couple calls with automobiles from lower Baja into San Diego, so it’s going to take a certain type of volume and distance from the border to make that work. But I think we’re pretty optimistic because a lot of the car manufacturers worldwide are setting up shop in Mexico and so as that industry becomes more mature in Mexico, I’m sure there’s going to be opportunities for more shipments like that. And really, the border congestion is becoming such a big issue that sooner or later folks are going to find ways that are alternatives to the trucks.

Global Trade: And does the port have a naturally deep harbor?

Yes. We’re lucky in that sense. The bay itself is protected by sort of a peninsula and Coronado Island, so there’s not a lot of silting. Our other advantage is even the maintenance dredging of the canal is done by the U.S. Navy, so the port is not saddled with that responsibility.

Global Trade: The cranes that you have on hand, are they already able to handle the Super-Post Panamax ships and how many containers across are the cranes able to handle?

We do not have any Gantry cranes. We have a mobile harbor crane that is used as needed. Most of the container calls in San Diego have ships that are geared, so the cranes are on the ships. But part of our long term vision is to modernize our terminals and have Gantry cranes there, too.

Global Trade: Now is there is a plan in place for that or is it just sort of out on the horizon, something you want?

We have a very aggressive 20/30 vision that includes demolishing a lot of the outdated warehouses. Our main Omni terminal was built in the early ’50s, so there’s a lot of 1950-style low-ceiling warehouses that are underutilized. The plan calls for clearing that area, preparing the terminal for more flexible open areas for cargo operations and storage, including container operation and then Gantry cranes to serve the terminal.

Brandy Christian: Our board just approved $650,000 to do the programmatic EIR for that business plan.

Global Trade: If you’re in competition with Long Beach and Los Angeles for a manufacturer that’s in western Arizona, for instance, are there any things that you would like to say to them to have them consider the Port of San Diego for their exports?

Joel Valenzuela: I think San Diego, in terms of juxtaposing to LA and Long Beach, is just the convenience of having space available that’s not always readily available at LA and Long Beach.