By Stephen Dempsey

As appeared on page A9

As a leader in economic development for our region, I know that the Port of Halifax is one of Canada’s most important assets. I know that 9,000 local jobs depend on the port. I know that regional exporters ship their products worldwide via Halifax. And I know that our port has lots of capacity to grow in the years to come.

But we need others to know these facts. Why? Because Canada is a trading nation and the Port of Halifax can play a much bigger role in international trade over the next decade. If more cargo moves through Halifax, that means more jobs and spinoffs locally.

This is why the Port of Halifax recently met with hundreds of Toronto business leaders and was featured at the Empire Club of Canada. The focus was how the Port of Halifax can connect Canadian importers and exporters to major markets and how the port can contribute more to Canada’s trade growth.

A diverse group of Greater Halifax business leaders were in Toronto to show that our community is working together to attract more cargo and provide quality service throughout the Canadian supply chain. When we have been successful in attracting new business to the port in the past, it has been through a collective effort. This will again need to be the case if the Port of Halifax is to grow in a major way and benefit the entire country.

For instance, in 2005, a group of retail giants wanted to bring their goods through Halifax instead of West Coast ports. Sears, Sony, Eddie Bauer, Reitmans and other big retailers. They were looking to cut time and cost out of their supply chain. Lots of work was needed by port partners to make an East Coast distribution hub work for 12 retailers. Halifax made it happen and 20 months later these retailers have a backlog-free operation, quality service and good rail and truck connections to their stores.

This is one example that the Port of Halifax shared with the Toronto business community. The purpose was to get more people in Central Canada thinking about Halifax as a profitable and congestion-free location for importing and exporting goods.

The port outlined how Halifax can connect Canadian business with the booming markets of Asia, and in particular India. For example, retailers are shipping goods from India in 23 days, versus 46 days over the West Coast. Faster shipping with less congestion. This, in essence, is the message delivered to Toronto companies and to the Indo-Canadian business community.

In the years to come, the Port of Halifax can attract more cargo by continuing to share this message broadly and then delivering the service customers expect. From Canada to Europe to Asia, the port and its partners will continue to aggressively sell what we offer here in Halifax. Selling our port in emerging markets takes time, but the spinoffs are worth it.

Every port in North America wants more cargo. Every port community wants more jobs. The Port of Halifax is fortunate to have enough terminal capacity to quadruple business and enough rail capacity to almost triple the cargo volumes. Our challenge is to compete internationally for our share of the pie.

Through initiatives such as the Halifax Gateway – an organization made up of stakeholders in the transportation industry including the port and airport and other leading stakeholders in the logistics industry – and as a local community, we must continue to work together to tell the world about the Port of Halifax and our other transportation assets to build the long-term customer relationships that will result in cargo growth. And we absolutely must continue working together to deliver the service that customers will demand of every port, including the Port of Halifax.

Stephen Dempsey is President and CEO of the Greater Halifax Partnership, a member, Halifax Gateway Council and Chair of the Atlantic Provinces Chambers of Commerce.