Shipping goods to market sounds like a simple task. After all, it’s a concept that has been around for centuries.
Though it has been met with challenges along the way, the mantra has maintained – the speed at which goods are shuttled to their desired destination is crucial to manufacturers.
Inland trading hubs like CentrePort, the Global Transportation and CN Logistics Park are intended to contribute to the supply chain, ease congestion and add infrastructure. They play a role in these functions and more, and they do so in their own unique way.
CentrePort is a massive 20,000-acre tri-modal port near Winnipeg. Driven mainly by the business community, the Manitoba capital has leveraged its geographical location to cluster infrastructure that would in turn attract investment activity in the region. Not only does it boast three rail carriers in its backyard, it’s also home to the busiest cargo airport in Canada measured by cargo-only freights. A bustling trucking industry not only has close proximity to the TransCanada Highway, but also conveniently uses the 24-hour border crossing at Pembina-Emerson, one of the most frequently used border crossings in western Canada for trucking and trade activity.
“There are a number of components about ‘Why here?’ that all come together to support manufacturers,” said Diane Gray, the President and CEO at CentrePort. “And what CentrePort layers on is that access to the global markets or even regional markets in a cost-effective and time-efficient way.”
Next door in Saskatchewan, the GTH is smaller in size yet is consistently humming with activity. The move of the CP rail line harmonized with this development on the western edge of Regina has played a significant role in the GTH business model.
As well, the GTH is Canada’s only self-governing inland port, a feature that makes it an attractive option for manufacturers. Legislation passed by the provincial government makes GTH the owner, developer and regulator of this facility and its land.
“That creates a very distinct opportunity for a client to work what we call speed to operation,” explained Bryan Richards, President and CEO at the GTH. “A client comes to us with a concept and presents their idea and GTH will work with you on that. But GTH also maintains a single point of contact. They only have to deal with GTH when it comes to permits and approvals, zoning bylaws. The development is funnelled through GTH.
“We find it’s a real distinct advantage that they’re only dealing with one entity and not multiple entities,” Richards added. “And the speed with which we can make that happen – because we’re in control of that – is significant.”
Recognizing that Saskatchewan producers own world class goods like canola and other grains, and minerals like potash and uranium was the easy part to figure out at GTH. Moving these items – nearly 80 per cent of what is produced in Saskatchewan is exported – to international ports had the possibility to create a challenge.
“You need to move those good efficiently and effectively and be attractive to the world in terms of that type of product,” Richards said. “But you also have to be able to get it to them. You have to be able to get it to them in abundance.”
Challenges of being landlocked and far from the oceans will forever be unchanged on the prairies, but what CentrePort, the GTH and CN Logistics Park use to their advantage is easy access to Canada’s Main Street – the TransCanada Highway – and rail lines and their opportunity for expansion.
Calgary’s CN Logistics Park is similar to its inland port colleagues in that it’s conveniently located on the outskirts of a major city with direct access to the CN rail lines on site, and to northbound Highway 2.
At CentrePort, construction is ongoing on the massive 700-acre railpark, which will provide rail-intensive business on-site and competitive access to three class-1 couriers that serve the Manitoba capital.
The bypass coming into play in Regina is the largest infrastructure project in Saskatchewan history and is expected to be fully operational in fall of 2019. This logistical roadway system is designed with future growth in mind and will divert truck traffic to the northbound Highway 11 and southbound to Highway 33 and Highway 48.
In addition to the trucking flow at GTH, the CP rail line does a lot of the heavy lifting at this site. Work here has nearly tripled since its location was moved from downtown Regina to the western edge of the city. And the lines have been designed to handle 10-15 times the workload mainly because of the additional operational space.
“The infrastructure improvement of the GTH in terms of that rail intermodal facility is gigantic,” Richards explained. “Expanding the space and the opportunity to increase the number of handlings (lifts of containers on and off the trains) … is one of the pre-requisites of attracting people here. They see that capacity, they see that opportunity in the future. Companies makes these decisions based on 20- or 30-year timelines.”
CentrePort has answered the question of ‘Why here?’ by informing would-be clients that Manitoba has the lowest published hydro electric rates of any jurisdiction in Canada and the second-lowest rate in North America.
“Not only is your power green and renewable, but it’s also low cost. And manufacturing tends to be an energy-intensive environment,” Gray said.
Manufacturing processes that often require significant amounts of water. CentrePort has the ability to ramp up to meet water needs very quickly. Its water treatment facility can double in size almost every 12 months, if required.
From a shipping perspective, having access to three class-1 rail carriers, to a number of Canada’s largest trucking companies, to multiple integrator services at the airport give manufacturers flexibility to manage their supply chain in a cost-competitive way. They have the ability to negotiate and to find the best rate and have the industry compete for their shipper’s business instead of vice-versa.
“It’s our motto to help companies make the decision to invest in CentrePort as easy as possible,” Gray said.