To Move Moun­tains

The Port of Na­mur is suc­cess­fully im­ple­ment­ing a change in mind­set to busi­nesses across Wal­lo­nia, look­ing to di­ver­sify its port­fo­lio in or­der to adapt to the chang­ing mar­ket re­quire­ments

EME Outlook - - Contents - Writer: Phoebe Calver

So­lu­tions adapted to your needs

In its 40th year of op­er­a­tions, Port of Na­mur is a fully-fledged suc­cess in the Wal­loon re­gion and fur­ther afield as an in­de­pen­dent pub­lic com­pany.

The Port is not what you would typ­i­cally ex­pect when you hear its name, based away from the typ­i­cal sea­side ex­panse, it is lo­cated on the Rivers Meuse and Sam­bre in the south of Bel­gium.

At present the Port man­ages 160 hectares of land spread along both rivers, mainly owned by the Re­gion.

“Our prime goal is to pro­mote river trans­porta­tion for com­pa­nies,” Do­minique de Paul de Barchi­fontaine, Di­rec­tor of the Port of Na­mur ex­plains. “Ap­prox­i­mately 98 per­cent of the land that we man­age is bound to wel­come in­dus­trial ac­tiv­i­ties, there­fore we are able to step in and place in­dus­tries or com­pa­nies on it.

“We pro­vide a hy­brid-model ser­vice as we are re­quired to abide by a se­lec­tion of pub­lic rules and leg­is­la­tions whilst adopt­ing pri­vate sec­tor busi­ness prac­tices. How­ever, we are not oper­at­ing un­der an ad­min­is­tra­tive struc­ture, we are a Com­pany of pub­lic in­ter­est, man­ag­ing es­tate lo­cated along our rivers in a way com­pa­ra­ble to an SME.”

“We have a pub­lic com­pany struc­ture and a man­age­ment con­tract with the Wal­loon Re­gion, defin­ing our busi­ness’ struc­ture and mis­sion for a pe­riod of five years. This is quite com­mon in our coun­try, for ex­am­ple with the Bel­gian rail­ways or other in­land ports.”

Mar­ket sta­bil­ity

There are four ports lo­cated in Wal­lo­nia, all of which are in­de­pen­dent com­pa­nies with sim­i­lar struc­tures, mis­sions and ob­jec­tives.

“When it comes to sourc­ing the right com­pany for a plot of land, we aim to set­tle a long-term ba­sis con­tract,” adds de Paul. “This pro­vides us with sta­bil­ity and the new busi­ness a chance to build or ex­tend its ac­tiv­i­ties and port­fo­lio. We are able to pro­vide them with ac­cess to the river and the sup­port they re­quire to get them­selves up and run­ning.

“The com­pany we award the con­tract to is not cho­sen on the ba­sis of the price they can of­fer. All of our rates are pre­de­fined by the law and sub­se­quently we are un­able to place com­pa­nies in com­pe­ti­tion with each other for a plot. This en­ables us to work in the pub­lic in­ter­est for those that will get the best pos­si­ble use out of the land we have avail­able.

“We have a fixed fee based on com­plex cal­cu­la­tions that take into ac­count the size of the plot, the length of the dock or the pro­vided in­fra­struc­ture.

“We will also look into the to­tal ton­nage pos­si­bly achieved for a piece of land. That de­fines a min­i­mum ton­nage which the com­pany will have to pay, ev­ery ad­di­tional ton be­ing priced at a de­creas­ing rate.”

The Port of Na­mur is try­ing to steer com­pa­nies to­wards the rivers and away from the road as much as pos­si­ble. Through this ‘penalty’ the Com­pany hopes to achieve that tar­get as it is a far cheaper and more ef­fi­cient means of trans­porta­tion.

de Paul adds: “The com­pet­i­tive el­e­ment for all par­ties in­volved is far softer and it comes down to the qual­ity of each

The com­pet­i­tive el­e­ment for all par­ties in­volved is far softer and it comes down to the qual­ity of each project

project, in­clud­ing fu­ture prospects, em­ploy­ment and any op­por­tu­nity cre­ated for the lo­cal area and the Re­gion.”

New projects

When it comes to the Com­pany’s es­tate port­fo­lio, it is rel­a­tively stunted by the fact it doesn’t of­fer a lot of op­por­tu­ni­ties for ex­ten­sion, as de Paul ex­plains: “Land is a scarce re­source and cit­i­zens, com­mu­ni­ties, cities are more and more en­vi­ron­ment con­scious, which is a good thing as it forces projects to be thought dif­fer­ently than in the past.”

“Although lack of ex­ten­sion posed an is­sue ini­tially, we have taken this knowl­edge on board as a chal­lenge,” de Paul de­scribes. “Now we use this as an op­por­tu­nity for rein­ven­tion, look­ing into the re­quire­ments of the mar­ket so that we can of­fer them the most at­trac­tive pitch pos­si­ble that will serve both the busi­ness and the com­mu­nity.

“At present we are look­ing into a new project in the ship build­ing busi­ness, work­ing with a com­pany that spe­cialises in barges for river trans­port and river cruises. It is work like this that we are look­ing to ex­pand into and that is pro­vid­ing us with a new facet within our prod­uct port­fo­lio.”

Along­side search­ing for new busi­ness av­enues, the Com­pany also hopes to achieve a shift from work­ing pre­dom­i­nantly in bulk man­age­ment, to value-added lo­gis­tics that in­volves not only man­ag­ing bulk but also the trans­porta­tion of a wider range of goods with var­i­ous pack­ag­ing so­lu­tions such as big bags and con­tain­ers.

In­no­va­tive spirit

At present the trans­porta­tion mar­ket is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a shift in par­a­digm and pace, and soon it is ex­pected and hoped that there will be a vast trans­fer from the lead­ing road trans­porta­tion onto a struc­tured com­bi­na­tion of rail­way and rivers.

“Our line of work is ex­tremely prac­ti­cal, and we still have some in­dus­tries with ac­cess to the river that are not util­is­ing it,” de Paul adds. “We try to help them un­der­stand how they could gain more out of us­ing the river as a trans­porta­tion stream, chang­ing their lo­gis­tics’ chain and the way that they carry out their busi­ness.”

“Chang­ing the way peo­ple think is in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult, which we have dis­cov­ered re­cently when work­ing with a wood-chip com­pany from Ghent. Although they could trans­port their prod­ucts more ef­fi­ciently via wa­ter, char­ter­ing a barge to do so is not their top pri­or­ity at present. We need to change this way of think­ing so that very soon it will be a top pri­or­ity for com­pa­nies across the coun­try.”

The Port of Na­mur has an in­no­va­tive spirit that will serve it well mov­ing for­ward, tak­ing its pri­vate com­pany man­age­ment spirit to the pub­lic and greater good of the Re­gion.

de Paul con­cludes: “I hope that as we con­tinue to grow as a busi­ness, we will suc­cess­fully add more di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion to our port­fo­lio, work­ing to­gether with com­pa­nies as a lo­gis­tics’ part­ner to pro­duce the most fruit­ful out­come for all, plac­ing em­pha­sis on the road to river switch.”

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