TRURO – Brian Lee Crowley thinks big, talks big and knows how to work up a crowd about Halifax as a destination for the huge Asian container ships of the future.

Some might assume that Asian imports would land on North America’s west coast, but the president of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies challenged more than 150 people at a three-day transportation conference in Truro on Thursday to rethink their mental geography.

“To deal effectively with change requires not merely new policies, new roads, new investments, new treaties,” he said. “First . . . we have to change the maps we have in our heads about where we are.”

Mr. Crowley said many North American ports are near capacity with no room to grow. Waterways such as the Panama Canal aren’t big enough for the vessels, which in a few years could carry up to 15,000 containers instead of the current 3,000 to 5,000.

The Suez Express can handle the traffic and Halifax, with its deep natural harbour, can handle the ships, Mr. Crowley said at the three-day conference, attended by transportation providers, members of chambers of commerce, mayors and municipal staff, economic development representatives and government officials.

Mr. Crowley, founder of the Halifax public policy think-tank and a former president of the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council, said the East Coast, including Atlantic Canada, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and northern New York state, “is now on the Pacific Rim.”

“Atlantica is a direct destination for the fast-growing industrial output of China, India and southeast Asia, as well as a departure point for our exports back to them,” he said.

He said the region needs political will and a “seamless” North American network of roads, trains and short-sea shipping – loading cargo onto smaller vessels for distribution to other ports.

Conference chairman Bill Hay said Mr. Crowley is focusing on how to transform “what we perceive as our disadvantages geographically into our advantages.”

Also on the agenda at the conference, which ends today, are transportation and border issues, the role of government and the impact of global economy.

Mr. Crowley made a similar presentation during Halifax Port Days in September. But Mr. Hay said the goal is to add to what has been learned at other conferences and in other studies.

The conference is hosted by the Atlantic Provinces Chambers of Commerce, Colchester Regional Development Agency, Town of Truro and Truro and District Chamber of Commerce.