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Vol. 19, No. 34 Week of August 24, 2014
Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry

AK-WA Connection 2014: Container specialist responds to growth

Company breaks ground on second terminal; Tacoma transportation club lauds PNW owner Terry Thomas II as ‘2013 Person of the Year’

Rose Ragsdale

Alaska-Washington Connection

2014 is shaping up to be a banner year for Pacific Northwest Equipment Inc. with construction of a second terminal under way a short distance from the company’s headquarters and existing terminal in Kent, Washington, its shipping services and the emergence of significant market niches in Alaska and Hawaii, and recognition for its business and charitable contributions to the Seattle-Tacoma Metropolitan Area.

PNW is a recognized leader in the design, manufacture, sales and leasing of maritime and intermodal equipment throughout the Pacific Northwest and the Pacific Maritime region which includes Western Canada, Alaska and Hawaii. It specializes in building and leasing shipping containers to businesses in Washington state, Oregon, Alaska and Hawaii, including equipment designed to stand up to the elements in the ocean environment of the Pacific Ocean.

Founded by Terrence “Terry” R. Thomas II in 1980, the family-run business got its start serving the barge industry when it began to use containers to ship more and more cargo.

“We built Northland Services’ first 20-foot-by-8-foot-by-9.5-foot ‘High Cube’ containers … back in 1980,” Thomas said. “Those were the first 20-foot High Cube containers in the world. (Northland) wanted to be able to ship canned salmon two pallets high. Thus, the 20-foot High Cube was born!”

Thirty-four years later, the family-owned business is still refining the designs of its containers for the Alaska market.

“A typical container on the international scene may be used four times a year, but Alaska containers turn twice a month,” Thomas said. “Because of the harsh environment, they have to be built stronger to handle the extreme environment in which they operate. For example, we build our containers with beefed-up fork pockets and extra-high bottom rails to facilitate fork lift operations in the snow.”

PNW also provides custom-built containers to customers.

“We pride ourselves on being problem solvers for people,” Thomas said. “With all the different pieces of gear that we operate, we can formulate a plan to satisfy the shipping needs of our clients. We haven’t been stumped yet!”

Over the years, the company has developed a variety of intermodal equipment for its clients’ use in Alaska-Washington commerce, including the 6,800-gallon ISO tank (UN Portable tank) container for which PNW has a patent pending.

“We built this UN Portable tank with fork pockets at the bottom. You won’t see this type of tank container anywhere else in the world,” Thomas said.

A surge in activity

Alaska Marine Lines acquired Northland Services in 2013, which along with other industry-related developments resulted in changes rippling across the Alaska-Washington trade, including at shipping facilities in the ports of Seattle and Tacoma.

“We’re growing. Leasing and sales are up in Alaska and Hawaii shipping,” observed Mathew P. Thomas, vice president and marketing manager for PNW, in a recent interview.

PNW, for example, will now handle 40-foot containers as well as the array of 20-foot containers it has traditionally provided its customers, Thomas said.

PNW’s new terminal will cover four acres just one mile from its first terminal, a facility that houses its current operation, including offices and storage, on three acres.

“The new terminal will help us better manage our gear so we can get the trucks in and out quickly to serve our customers better,” Thomas said. “Since Alaska Marine Lines bought Northland, we will need additional storage space,” he added.

PNW currently employs nine workers, but the company expects to make two to four new hires when the second terminal is finished.

Thomas said he has noticed a huge uptick in construction recently in Alaska, Hawaii and the Seattle Metropolitan Area.

“We’re doing a lot more with the military, and that business is continuing to grow,” he said. “Shipping asphalt and cement has become a nice niche for us.”

To move its containers, PNW subcontracts with trucking companies and averages 25 shipments per day. It also uses three trucks of its own to handle its roll-on, roll-off services.

A lifetime of achievement

Terry Thomas, meanwhile, won the “2013 Person of the Year” award from Transportation Club of Tacoma in January. Thomas’ lifelong career in the transportation industry began in 1968 after he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Seattle University and completed active and reserve service in the U.S. Coast Guard. His experience covers the entire transportation spectrum literally, in that he has, at one time or another, worked for and/or owned companies in the steamship, commercial trucking, container depot, commercial fishing, warehousing, storage, wholesale distribution, design, manufacturing, sales and leasing Today, the senior Thomas’ business focus continues to support the growth and development of the intermodal equipment needs of hundreds of Pacific Northwest companies.

“Whenever transportation professionals serving the military, aerospace, trucking, shipping, tug & barge, construction, waste, oil & gas, mining, and retail sectors of the industry have equipment needs or questions about regulations, intermodal transport, or container specification requirements, they frequently rely upon Terry Thomas and his expert team at PNW Equipment to help them and their own customers tackle complex transportation challenges,” wrote the Transportation Club in its salute to Thomas.

“While Terry is extremely proud of the success of his PNW Equipment team over the past 34 years, Terry is even more proud of how this success has been able to help provide charitable financial support to many outstanding organizations in the Puget Sound Community to include, but not limited to, the Transportation Club of Tacoma, the Transportation Club of Seattle, the Coast Guard Foundation, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Seattle University Men’s & Women’s Athletics and numerous area youth athletic teams,” the Club added.

Other recent family news, said Mathew Thomas, comes from his brother, Lt. Col. Terry Thomas III, who joined PNW a couple of years ago as a vice president, though he is still actively serving in the military. The younger Terry Thomas recently was promoted to full colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps.

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