Find out why strategic investments are luring international shipping companies to Maine's ports.
Maine’s transportation and logistical assets connect businesses to markets across the country and around the globe, and the state continues to invest in infrastructure to strengthen its international business presence.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has ranked Maine No. 1 in infrastructure and in the top 10 in all three infrastructure measures: the share of high-speed Internet connections, the penetration of broadband by census tract and a composite index of transportation infrastructure.
Broadband access continues to improve throughout the state. In 2012, Maine’s public-private 3-Ring Binder initiative completed a 1,100-mile “middle mile” fiber optic network to bring high-speed access to remote areas of the state.
Several cities have constructed their own fiber optic networks, and telecommunications firms like Redzone Wireless LLC are using wireless technology to increase broadband access for Maine residents and businesses. The Camden-based provider recently launched its high-speed service in Portland and has plans to expand it across the state.
Maine’s transportation assets cover all modes, with unique connections to international markets due to its proximity to Canada and, as the easternmost state, to Europe. In fact, 21 percent of the U.S. market and 52 percent of the Canadian market are within a 10-hour drive or a short flight.
Maine has six commercial airports and more than 60 small public airports, 15 of which accommodate corporate jets and 10 of which have customs service.
The state is also home to 1,400 miles of rail track operated by seven railroads, including the new Central Maine & Quebec Railroad in Searsport. Those rail and highway connections serve Maine’s seven strategically located ports. Three major seaports – Portland, Searsport and Eastport – are open year-round, are ice-free, and have deepwater channels and berthing. All these transportation connections link to five Foreign Trade Zones.
The Portland International Jetport completed a 137,000-square-foot addition as part of a multimillion-dollar upgrade that also includes enhancements to the general aviation ramp, enlarging the cargo ramp and facilities, runway lengthening and upgrading of de-icing capabilities.
The airport consistently ranks highly in affordability and customer satisfaction surveys, ranking 13th of the nation’s 101 most affordable airports and the top in New England. This study reinforces the Jetport as not only the most convenient, but also the most affordable for local travelers, says airport director Paul Bradbury.
In 2013, Eimskip, Iceland’s largest shipping company, moved its U.S. port of call from Norfolk, Va., to the Port of Portland due in part to upgrades at the International Marine Terminal. The port upgraded from a mixed ferry/cargo terminal to a modern container handling facility.
Those improvements fueled an additional $8.6 million expansion at the port that will double its size and provide a direct rail link from the port. The expansion will include a 14-acre chassis storage facility and 4,100 feet of new rail that allow freight to move from the port to main line rail service without additional handling, lowering costs for shippers.
Eimskip ships frozen and chilled fish, bottled water and cryolite, used in aluminum production, from Newfoundland, Iceland and northern Europe to the U.S. It also exports consumer goods, building supplies and Maine-harvested products, such as lobsters, blueberries and potatoes, to northern Europe.
The company expects to move 7,500 containers this year, up from 5,000 containers in 2013. Currently Eimskip vessels call at Portland 31 times per year, and the company plans to have weekly service by 2020, according to Larus Isfeld, Eimskip’s manager of operations in North America. Ships from Portland make stops in Iceland and England before traveling on to Rotterdam, Europe’s largest marine terminal in the Netherlands.
The expansion of Portland’s International Marine Terminal is an investment that enhances opportunities for Eimskip and other shipping companies as well as for businesses seeking to expand their market reach beyond the United States, says John Henshaw, executive director of the Maine Port Authority.
To accommodate the demand for cold storage, the Maine Port Authority is developing land for a 100,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art refrigerated warehouse, says Robert Elder, director of the Office of Freight Transportation and Business Services.
The warehouse will position Portland as a center of the international food and beverage trade.
“Portland will always be a niche port, but we will be the best niche port we can be,” Henshaw says.
Based on market demand, the Maine Port Authority is developing its own articulated tug-barge vessel design for the New England Marine Highway Project that will operate container service between the Port of Portland and the Port of New York/New Jersey.
“Having completed preliminary designs, we will continue to work with our partners to bring this project to fruition,” Henshaw says. “We look forward to the day when this vessel regularly plies the waters between Maine and New York.”