The City of Vancouver has the largest port in Canada by far. Compared to other ports in North America, it's the third largest, the closest North American port to Asian markets and the most diversified. In a country with a focus on trade and a growing focus on trade to the West, diversity is a major strength for this port.
Robin Silvester, President & Chief Executive Officer at Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, was on hand at the RICS Summit Series Americas 2019 Vancouver Summit to explain how global pressures are impacting the region's real estate market and how the port is addressing these pressures.
The current trade conditions between Canada and the US has been a major eye-opener for the Canadian government accelerating plans to diversify trade to other partners. Aside from the US, the Port of Vancouver's biggest trading partners are China, Japan, Korea and India – all economies that are growing faster than the global average. And thanks to its location as the gateway to North America for these trading partners, the Port of Vancouver is under pressure to grow its capacity each year.
This pressure to grow has led to an investment in the port's infrastructure. As in many urban areas, the Port of Vancouver only has so much land. Added trade requires more efficient infrastructure and to keep neighbours happy, the movement of goods and people should not impede each other.
Silvester pointed to the use of data to measure the performance of the supply chain to improve bottlenecks and build infrastructure improvements where they are needed most. Rail cars were tracked to allow the team to understand where rail movement is being impeded and use the data to produce operational dashboards and plan infrastructure.
The same was done for trucks using GPS data to see how trucks are being delayed and find bottlenecks to have productive discussions to bring improvements to the flow of trucks in and out of the port lands.
The community wants to know that while we're growing, we're protecting the environment. We have to tell those kinds of stories to maintain the community's support.
President & Chief Executive Officer at Vancouver Fraser Port Authority
Data was also used to listen to the noise created by ships passing in and out of the port – this data provided the opportunity to improve the environmental impact of such an active port on sensitive species in the region.
Silvester described the process of building the data set to understand the impact of noise on killer whales. Investing in a healthy environment is important to the port. It "provides us with the engagement and community support we need," he said.
The port designed a program that would provide discounts to lines that go above and beyond and include awards to publicly recognize the businesses that step up to reduce the impact on the environment.
Working with data and bringing people together from environmental groups, first nations and different parties, they began to understand the impact of noise on whales. With careful study, they were able to build the data set to understand how to can curb industrial stress on the species without impacting trade.
"The community wants to know that while we're growing, we're protecting the environment. We have to tell those kinds of stories to maintain the community's support," said Silvester.
The pressures to grow and the challenges of moving goods and people around the limited industrial areas while respecting the environment requires extensive collaboration with various interest groups. As consumer trends shift and Canadians become more dependent on e-commerce, the retail sector requires more industrial land – something that is scarce in Vancouver.
The industrial land crunch in Vancouver means that businesses must find a way to do more with less and find efficiencies. For the Port of Vancouver, land planning is a challenge as it is in the hands of regional governments – the port deals with 16 municipalities each with their own ideas for land use. But industrial lands provide high paying jobs, and this is a good incentive to keep working together.
Silvester knows the only path to progress is through collaboration and the port is in a unique position to be able to bring diverse groups to the table to apply the science, tech and land management required to solve these complex issues.
"Collaboration is the most important skillset," Silvester stresses. "We're the only party able to cause that to happen."