ABERDEEN, WASHINGON — If you look at Aberdeen on the satellite view offered by Google Maps, one thing jumps out. From high above, it looks like a quilt with little tiny squares of color, neatly arranged over a huge area. Zoom in and it becomes clearer. The squares are cars. Acres and acres of cars.
At the Port of Grays Harbor, Pasha Automotive Services exports thousands of vehicles to foreign markets along the Pacific Rim.
“So, what we’re looking at here are vehicles we have processed to go out,” Pasha general manager Penny Eubanks said. “These will export to China, Japan, Korea.”
Pasha has a 100,000-square-foot warehouse here and some 140 acres of land. At any given time, Eubanks says, the company can hold upwards of 16,000 vehicles to be loaded onto ships. For Pasha, the cars represent big business. For the Port of Grays Harbor, they represent a changing economy.
“Forever we’ve been an export-oriented, natural resource-oriented port — logs, lumber, pulp, all things wood,” said Gary Nelson, executive director of the port.
But manufacturers closed. Technology and regulations hit the timber industry particularly hard. And there were other factors, such as the recession about a decade ago. Unemployment hit 16.3 percent here in 2011. It’s now 6 percent, the lowest in decades.
So, there’s reason to hope. But if recent history has taught local officials anything, it’s that the economy here needs to diversify.
“It was easy to talk about ‘Hey we need to diversify,’” Nelson said. “Finding the path has been a challenge over the years.”
The port now focuses on rail cargos from the Midwest, such as the cars and soybean meal — a key ingredient in animal feeds. There’s also a biodiesel export facility, as well as tanks for methanol coming in from other markets.
The port is working to attract a potash export facility. Potash is mined from the ground and used to make fertilizer. A Canadian company called BHP hopes to extract potash from a mine in Saskatchewan, send it by rail to the West Coast, and ship it to foreign markets.
Those trains could arrive at Terminal 3 in Aberdeen. BHP also is considering Vancouver, B.C.
Pasha, meanwhile, employs about 60 people in Grays Harbor. And the company hopes to grow here.
“We would love to increase our workforce and we’d love to give more people jobs there,” Brian Mason, Pasha vice president of business development, said on the phone from the company’s headquarters near San Diego. “We’re very happy with the people who are working for us, and we’d love to have more.”
He said the Port of Grays Harbor offers one strategic advantage compared to other Northwest ports — time.
“From the time the vessel picks up the harbor pilot to the time they’re at the berth is about 90 minutes,” Mason said. “That’s very fast, versus if you’re going into Portland to an auto terminal, it’s about a six-hour steam up the Columbia River to get to that terminal. Tacoma’s about three and a half to four hours.”
The port overall has seen growth in vessel traffic. In the early 2000s, eight or 10 vessels called here annually. This year, they’re estimating about 110 vessels will dock.
But the port has other lines of business, too.
It also operates Bowerman Airport in Hoquiam, and the Satsop Business Park, which port officials say has added 400 jobs to eastern Grays Harbor County. It also operates the Westport Marina, which is the No. 1 seafood landing port in the state, by poundage.
Nelson also says there is a project to deepen the water in the port, just by two or three feet. The port will still handle the same size vessels, but deeper water will let them load more cargo.