An international shipping and logistics hub concept that has undergone several changes over the years is being relaunched with a bigger scope in the Edmonton region.
The concept of Port Alberta is to promote the entire Edmonton metropolitan region as a major manufacturing, cargo and shipping hub for air, road, rail and pipeline distribution.
“Port Alberta is already being used, but right now it’s being used more around the airport and people tend to think about it as an airport program — but it’s really the entire region,” Edmonton Global marketing and communications vice-president Chris McLeod said as he explained the scope.
“Every community and every municipality inside the Edmonton metropolitan region can be using the services of Port Alberta if they’re in that import and export business.”
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Edmonton is the northernmost major city in North America, with rail and road access to both the major ocean ports in Vancouver and Prince Rupert.
The Edmonton International Airport is also Canada’s closest major airport to Asia by circumpolar routes.
“We’re only about nine minutes’ different flight time from Edmonton to Hong Kong or to Shanghai compared to Vancouver. And land is way cheaper here,” McLeod said.
“There’s so much we can be doing here, where other parts of the world are constricted.”
The airport has partnerships with Air China, Korean Air, Icelandair and Air France-KLM. In the past decade, it has focused beyond passenger travel to expand international cargo capabilities.
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Beyond the airport, Edmonton is home to several large and rapidly growing industrial areas, including Nisku to the south surrounding the airport, and Acheson to the west of the city.
“As one of the largest industrial areas in Western Canada, Parkland County’s Acheson industrial area is primed for further growth as part of the Port Alberta initiative,” Parkland County Mayor Allan Gamble said.
McLeod said the aim of all involved is to make the Edmonton region a critical hub in the global supply chain: “Building Port Alberta and establishing and having companies use it is really the first step.”
The idea of Port Alberta was initially launched more than a decade ago, with the goal of being a one-stop shop for customs and security, with a free trade zone and with air, rail and trucking connections in one place.
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It became a joint venture between the airport and the Edmonton Economic Development Corp. (EEDC), which was an arm of the city created in 1993 to expand economic development.
In recent years, the EEDC underwent an overhaul to focus on tourism and marketing and rebranded as Explore Edmonton.
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The idea to further develop and promote the area as an inland port has now been relaunched as a collaboration between the airport, the federal government’s Prairies Economic Development Canada (PrairiesCan) department and Edmonton Global: a not-for-profit corporation founded by 14 municipalities that make up the Edmonton metropolitan region.
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“There’s a few things that are different now about Port Alberta compared to the past,” McLeod explained at Wednesday’s relaunch, explaining the new partnership between EIA, PrairiesCan and Edmonton Global.
“There’s a renewed energy behind it and it’s really, I think, the first time we’ve tried to make this a regional footprint, rather than to really just focusing on a few warehouses and what’s happening around the airport, in particular.”
Emily Salsbury founded the EMMYDEVEAUX clothing company in 2018 and said she has been using all the components of Port Alberta. As a business owner, she said she loves how the concept brings together so many services.
“(It) feels like a community. It’s like a close family of everyone trying to push the needle forward and really bring economic development and jobs and import-export to Alberta.”
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Salsbury’s company has a 4,000-square foot warehouse near EIA. She said having import, customs and export services centralized in one place has helped her business grow.
“All of those like capabilities have led us to now be a really stable company that can deliver goods fast.
“Nowadays, we’re starting to capitalize on all of the relationships Port Alberta has for international expansion.”
Salsbury said while she is a clothing designer, her real passion is business, logistics and finance. She spent more than 20 years as a retail and real estate strategist and also was the executive director of the University of Alberta School of Retailing for five years before launching EMMYDEVEAUX.
“I really wanted to start a company that could capitalize on all these amazing partnerships that I already had,” she said.
“When it comes to exporting your own products, you really need to make sure you’ve got the logistics and space.”
Salsbury said figuring out an efficient way of dealing with exports is a huge aspect to the success of a business, and shipping internationally doesn’t make sense until businesses have the capability to do it at a global scale.
“We wouldn’t have had the capabilities to do that at scale without being where we are and working with the Port Alberta team.”
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In 2015, EIA was designated as a Foreign Trade Zone (FTZ).
While the federal government said there is no precise definition of what constitutes an FTZ, the term generally refers to a specific location where businesses are eligible for tariff and tax exemptions with respect to the purchase or importation of raw materials, components or finished goods.
“Port Alberta, in its simplest terms, is a way to bring goods in and out of Canada: so it’s about import and export,” McLeod explained.
“So if you can imagine: we’re here at Stihl, they make chainsaws. A chainsaw might come into here — let’s say, from Germany — and sit on their shelves and then be sold off to say, some place in the United States. The whole time it’s on the shelf here, it’s treated like it’s actually not inside Canada.
“So it’s able to enter without the import duties and the taxes and leave without them as well. So it makes it really simple from a global supply chain (perspective).”
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McLeod said the port also enables global manufacturers to take advantage of trade agreements.
“They could bring in product — again using a chainsaw — let’s say that 30 per cent of the value added was done here by Canadian components, that chainsaw could then be sold in the United States as a made-in-Canada product through NAFTA, which is way faster and cheaper than if it went straight from China.”
McLeod said bringing together the proximity of trains, planes and automobiles with other developments in the region will boost the city’s profile.
“You start to layer into that things like our leadership in artificial intelligence (or) the hydrogen economy that’s been built here.
“We think in 10 years, 20 years, this will be a global epicenter for North America to move goods and services in and out of this part of the world.”
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