Port cities are always competing with neighbors for vessel traffic, a given in any market and perhaps especially in a down market. But while all are interested in attracting ships, few dedicate significant resources to attracting the shoreside, corporate presence of shipping companies.
Vancouver, B.C. is a rare exception. Its newly formed Vancouver International Maritime Centre (VIMC) is specifically tasked with attracting ship owners, ship operators and related businesses, with a focus on the branch operations of foreign companies.
Under the leadership of executive director Kaity Arsoniadis-Stein, the newly formed trade office has met with 200 shipping companies over the past year, advertising the benefits of Asia-Pacific and North American operations based out of Vancouver.
It's an easy pitch for her office to make. First and foremost, there are no tax penalties whatsoever for operating a branch division out of Vancouver. There are no taxes on any international shipping activities undertaken in Canada, nor on any non-resident company's foreign-sourced income. (The local office of PricewaterhouseCoopers is pleased to confirm this.)
Second, Vancouver has the closest ties to Asia of any city in North America. Forty percent of the population is of Asian descent, and it is easy to find highly qualified staff with fluency in Korean, Chinese, Japanese and other languages. Direct flights to Asian centers of commerce are plentiful. And Great Circle sailings to Asian ports are shorter than those for U.S. West Coast cities.
Third, it offers bedrock stability: Canada's banking system is conservative and unadventurous; its steady, low unemployment rate testifies to the strength of its economy; and its national-level policy shifts are few and generally predictable.
And fourth, for vessel operators who would like to locate near a growing North American port, the Port of Vancouver is investing billions in new infrastructure – including a planned expansion of its Roberts Bank terminal, which will add another 2.4 million TEU of annual capacity.
These upsides have long benefited global firms like Seaspan Corporation, Oldendorff, Teekay Tankers, bulker operator Pacific Basin and naval architects Vard Marine, all based in the Vancouver area. VIMC is already adding to the list: newly formed Greystoke Marine Management selected Vancouver for its home office in April; breakbulk / heavy lift firm AAL opened a new branch office late last fall; and global law firm Norton Rose Fulbright just acquired Vancouver's Bull, Houser & Tupper, motivated in part by the desire to have a B.C.-based presence for maritime law.
Arsoniadis-Stein says that many more firms are interested in Vancouver, especially with an eye to a future North American base once the shipping market improves. With a warm welcome and many advantages, it’s easy to see why.
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.