Port collaborative paying dividends

ROGERS CITY – Port Calcite has helped one Northeast Michigan business gain a competitive advantage, and could do the same for others in the future.

The deepwater port is the home of the Port Calcite Collaborative, an effort to make an area used by Moran Iron Works to load steel fabrications onto barges available to the public, Port Manager Gerald Ganske said. Moran has a long-term lease on its part of the docks and the land around it with Carmeuse Lime and Stone, owner and operator of the adjacent Calcite quarry. A few other outside companies have used the port, and Ganske is hoping even more will do so.

“The idea behind the whole thing is, along with (Moran’s) core philosophy, really all about creating jobs and careers in Northeast Michigan,” he said. “We see that any business development that would result as a consequence of the Port Calcite Collaborative, that can only increase employment in Northeast Michigan.”

One company sought the use of the port’s 440-ton crane to lift a reel of underwater cable onto a barge, Ganske said. The reels tend to hold around 80 tons of cable, and are 20 to 30 feet long by 12 to 14 feet wide. Some shipping companies have had large engine components loaded onto or unloaded from freighters as well.

There are other opportunities in the works, Ganske said, although he indicated they are “very confidential.” He and others involved with the port have put forth time and effort in the last year and a half to pursue new opportunities for Moran. Overall, business interest in the region is up thanks to the port.

One possibility would be to use the port for grain shipping, Ganske said. Agricultural products are a major commodity in Great Lakes shipping, and port employees have been approached with the idea. Ganske added there are no concrete plans at this point.

“There are a couple of Michigan-based port associations that have approached us to talk to us,” he said. “When that initially started happening, they were always talking about agricultural products.”

The collaborative and Moran have made improvements to the port infrastructure, with the biggest and most visible being the crane, Ganske said. Its enormous lifting capacity is a major asset. Other improvements include demolishing an old building, improving electrical services, leveling the ground and improving the sea walls.

Shipping out of Port Calcite is nothing new. The quarry has shipped by boat for much of its 100-year history, and still does. MIW has been loading large steel fabrications on barges there for around 15 years, MIW owner and founder Tom Moran said. The company trucks these steel assemblies by truck via a high-wire corridor on M-68.

“Initially, the high-wire corridor was a link to the port,” he said. “Port Calcite Collaborative now is a link to everywhere in the world. It’s also a link for other businesses and industries to tap into that worldwide market.”

The port has made a major difference for Moran’s business, including giving it a competitive advantage over other steel fabricators, he said. It’s allowed the company to increase its volume and make modular assemblies too large to truck. If Moran were restricted to shipping by truck, it would be jostling with hundreds of other shops for business.

“Anything that’s large, heavy and one-of-a-kind, we have no problem competing in our marketplace,” he said.

And there’s no sign of slowing down: Moran already has 80 percent of the world’s largest greenhouse gas reduction project at the port and ready for delivery in 2014, he said. The barging schedule is already almost full for the year, and his employees are completing a mercury reduction project at Moran headquarters in Onaway as well.

Improvements at the port are likely to continue, including possibly adding floating and permanent dry docks and a fabrication finishing facility, Moran said. Any changes likely will be done incrementally, as improvements can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars at a time, if not more.

Moran also would like to see more northern Michigan businesses use the port, and Presque Isle County Development Commission and Economic Development Corporation board Chairman Tom Sobeck said the two organizations would like to help promote it. The county EDC was involved with the collaborative in trying to secure a state grant to purchase the crane.

“Unfortunately, the pace of securing the proper grants and documentation through a governmental unit took longer than anyone would’ve cared for it to, which meant, unfortunately, that Mr. Moran had to proceed through other avenues,” he said.

The economic development corporation is looking to fill its director position, Sobeck said. He’s hoping to do so with approval from county commissioners in around a month, but until then the county EDC and CDC have been in something of a static mode.

Sobeck agreed the port has a potential to have “far-reaching, positive impacts,” adding only time will tell just what developments come forth.

“Obviously, Mr. Moran’s efforts are noteworthy in and of themselves, and the accomplishments he’s managed to get through that collaborative over the past year,” he said. “If nothing else, that’s positive.”

Jordan Travis can be reached via email at jtravis@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5688. Follow Jordan on Twitter @jt_alpenanews. Read his blog, A Snowball’s Chance, at www.thealpenanews.com.