Widening the Panama Canal has broadened industry and job opportunities for Nanaimo with a new automobile import and processing facility that will start operations at the Nanaimo Port Authority’s Assembly Wharf in January.
Nanaimo Port Authority, Western Stevedoring and its affiliate organization, the automotive division of U.S.-based SSA Marine, announced a joint venture Tuesday that will redevelop the Nanaimo Assembly Wharf into a multipurpose terminal that will be home to to an import vehicle processing facility where cars brought to Canada from Europe will have work done to meet Canadian standards.
“The existing warehouse that people see in the centre of Nanaimo Assembly Wharf, that’s approximately 60,000 square feet, that is actually going to become the vehicle processing centre,” said Ewan Moir, Nanaimo Port Authority president and CEO. “That is the facility where the vehicles go in and they are taken from being the standard-manufactured European vehicle and – I wouldn’t say they’re converted – they’re morphed to become a Canadian vehicle. The French-English stickers go on, the [GPS] software is update with all the maps particular to North America, any of the activities that are required in an automobile to make them Canadian happen within the vehicle processing centre.”
Having a centre in Nanaimo relieves distribution problems European manufacturers are have experienced by only being able to land vehicles destined for markets across Canada at Halifax, N.S., which means vehicles have to be transported by truck or train to Canadian destinations. The multiple loading and unloading stages can create time-consuming and expensive logistical bottlenecks in the delivery process. Also, vehicle dealers had complained about the cost of land on the Lower Mainland to store inventory.
Marine shipping cars destined for the Island, Lower Mainland and Western Canadian dealerships directly from Europe to Nanaimo became possible when the Panama Canal was widened, allowing large vehicle transport ships to pass through it on their routes to West Coast ports.
Moir said the first phase of the project will use about seven hectares of assembly wharf land and start out processing about 10,000 to 12,000 vehicles annually. The second phase of the project will double the size of the facility, which could grow to process up to about 40,000 vehicles annually as early as 2024.
“The cars will be processed here in Nanaimo, then the dealerships will have the cars that they’re looking for for their customers delivered back from Nanaimo to the Lower Mainland,” Moir said.
The delivery process will increase the short sea shipping business for Nanaimo and the processing facility itself will provide about 40 to 60 new jobs in the short term and up to 110 new jobs in the coming years, according to estimates presented in a press release.
Moir said the industry is a good fit for Nanaimo, especially because of its proximity to downtown.
“This is something that is not noisy. It’s not a noisy process in the vehicle processing centre and it actually operates more like a 9-5 business … and then you take the indirect employment that supports that industry,” he said.
Once the processing facility is established there is also potential to attract supporting industries and businesses.
“There’s a number of other areas, which we haven’t turned the page on yet, but we know that this is going to give us some directions for some other businesses that will potentially look very favourably at Nanaimo and the mid Island,” Moir said.
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