GMSP: Chamber hears it’s smooth sailing for Port of Hueneme
By Peggy Kelly
Santa Paula News
Published: January 23, 2013
It’s been smooth sailing for the Port of Hueneme, which celebrated its 75th year of operation as the only deep water harbor between Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area and the U.S. Port of Entry for California’s central coast region.
Will Berg, director of the marketing for the port, was the featured speaker at the January Good Morning Santa Paula. The Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting was held at Garman’s Pub. The port serves International businesses and ocean carriers from the Pacific Rim and Europe, and ranks among the top seaports in California for general cargo throughput.
Berg noted 2012 was the 75th anniversary of the port, created in 1937, which opened its first wharf in 1940 and welcomed its first customer - a lumber shipper - in 1941. “Then came December 7, 1941, and the government said we need ports,” and Berg said the port was obtained through condemnation and eminent domain.
All did what they could for the war effort and, in the case of the port, beyond, as the Navy has been “a valuable partner” since the war’s end. “We have our half and they have theirs,” and both sides have remained busy.
The niche markets served by Hueneme include the import and export of automobiles, fresh fruit and produce. Its unique positioning near the Santa Barbara Channel has also made the Port of Hueneme the primary support facility for the offshore oil industry.
2012, Berg noted, “was a busy year for us... the fourth busiest year of all time in terms of cargo,” while #1 “of all time in gross profits.... It was a great year” that also saw Kristin Decas come aboard as executive director and “hit the ground running... as soon as she arrived things started to change rapidly.”
One of the 11 deepwater ports in the state, Berg noted each harbor has its niche, although ports do compete for business. Although Los Angeles and Long Beach are the largest deepwater ports in the nation, the Port of Hueneme is particularly attractive due to its ease of use for seafaring haulers. The United States has more than 340 deepwater ports - just a reflection, noted Berg, of the 90 percent of imports that arrive by water.
Smooth sailing in and out of any port is important, as it costs a ship about $25,000 a day to operate, even when idle. Port Hueneme’s top commodity is bananas: “We see enough each year to circle the earth 12 times... 650,000 metric tons of bananas, that’s a lot of fresh fruit” that undergoes a special ripening processing upon arrival.
Port charges can be based on several factors: bananas and other fresh fruit are charged by the ton. But, noted Berg, “We can weigh fruit, but a ton of cars is hard to figure out... Rolls Royce comes through the port and they’re heavy, a Kia is pretty light, so it gets complicated.”
As a result the port charges a flat fee per vehicle, which can see a cost savings depending on how fast the cargo is moved and for large shipments. Vehicles, noted Berg, “are our cash cow,” with 300,000 vehicles processed at the port last year.
At any given time more than 5,000 local jobs are dependent on the port, whether through direct (more than 2,000 port jobs), induced or indirect employment. Berg said, “The ripple effect is felt through communities and creates a lot of jobs,” almost 4,000 additional positions impacted by port employee spending such as auto dealerships and grocery stores.
A November 2012 report noted that total personal income and local consumption impacts from the port topped $568 million. Not bad for an enterprise that “did not use one dollar of federal money” to be built. Today, noted Berg, it “would cost up to a trillion dollars to excavate, dredge and build” the Port of Hueneme.