Summer is just about over and hopefully you’ve had a chance to get some down time: some activity that gets you away from your desks, telephones, Blackberries, iPhones, laptops, whatever type of tether makes you available 24/7 to colleagues, customers, managers and others that drives you nuts, while paying the bills.
For me, this has meant a driving vacation through the Maritime Provinces of eastern Canada, which started in Quebec City and took us to the Gaspé Peninsula, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. We ended last week in Montreal for The Journal of Commerce 2011 Canada Maritime Conference. This is beautiful, largely unspoiled countryside, with not a lot of people, fantastic food, great views of the sea, wildlife and, best of all, the site of the proposed Melford Terminal on the Straits of Canso in Nova Scotia.
So part of my summer vacation was the proverbial “busman’s holiday” — putting a bit of work into one’s time away from work. This was my choice, and my wife thinks (well, knows actually) that I’m a geek for this stuff and was willing to go along for the day. Besides, the location of the proposed deep-water, mega-vessel-capable facility with no dirt yet overturned is across from the doorstep of the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island, one of the most beautiful corners of North America.
The Cabot Trail was on our itinerary in any case, and we could just as easily have driven right past the Melford site without stopping or even looking, especially considering there are no signs identifying the site — if you didn’t know it was there, you wouldn’t know it was there. And, according to our host and guide for the day, Richie Mann, the marketing vice president of Melford International Terminal (and a former Nova Scotia transport minister), that is by design. In fact, it is reasonable to suppose that many of you have either never heard of Melford Terminal or don’t know where it is, or maybe you figured by now these guys had given up and in these perilous times there were no longer any plans to build the thing.
Well, you’d be wrong.
The site is there, all right. The land has all been purchased or is in the final stages of being acquired. Permitting and environmental approvals are in place or working.
Melford Terminal has an interesting group of “partners,” as they’re called on the Web site, that include Maher Terminals (which must mean Maher’s financial resources), Canadian National Railway, BMO Capital Markets and other familiar international shipping names. According to Mann, current plans (which he noted had slipped by several months) call for the first shovel to hit the dirt next spring and for the first phase to be operational 24 to 28 months later, sometime in 2014 or thereabouts.
So why bother? Business isn’t that good these days; it probably won’t get a lot better for at least a couple of years, maybe around 2014 of so, at about the same time as the expanded Panama Canal will be open for business. But this isn’t apparently a play based on Panama — Nova Scotia is too far north to be a practical port of call for mega-ships coming from Asia from the west. No, Melford is looking east, to mega-ships coming west through the Suez Canal, which has better capability and capacity specifications than even the new, improved Panama Canal.
I admit I was a skeptic about this project when I arrived here, and I still have some doubts. For example, Nova Scotia already has a deep-water container port at Halifax, about 150 miles away. Canada still has less than 35 million people (California has more than 37 million), so does not need a new mega-port for its own needs. Melford would be focused on serving the U.S. market, in a fashion similar to the Port of Prince Rupert in British Columbia, which is focused on goods moving to the U.S. Midwest.
But these are pretty smart guys, and although I don’t think they’ve got a better crystal ball than the rest of us, they do have an interesting approach. There is no public money in Melford, and it will be a privately operated, not public, facility. That’s a model that could have game-changing implications.
West Asia won’t replace China as the world’s manufacturing center tomorrow, but there are indications China’s dominance may not be as unassailable as once believed.
So it looks like Melford will be built. It seems not to be based on an “if we build it, they will come,” Field of Dreams, pie-in-the-sky fantasy. These are serious people with a “killer” concept. Frankly speaking, it’s worth keeping an eye on, and I’d like to find a reason to return next year to check on the progress, and take another busman’s holiday.
Barry Horowitz is the principal of CMS Consulting Services. Contact him at 503-208-2232 or at email@example.com.