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China trade, improvements give boost to Massport

Just a few years ago, things didn’t look so good at Boston’s port. The facilities were run down and companies were looking elsewhere to ship their goods.

The picture has changed dramatically. 

Last year, the amount of cargo coming in and out of the Massachusetts Port Authority jumped 6 percent, capping a fifth straight year of increases. Since 2001, business is up by 40 percent. 

“The growth is very encouraging,” said Michael Leone, Massport’s port director. “It’s good to see that New England is getting its fair share.” 

Things could get even better as more than $120 million is plowed into new facilities just in time to take advantage of an increasing demand to move more products around the world. 

“What’s happening is pretty amazing,” said Neil Fitzpatrick, chief of Boston Freight Terminals, a warehousing company involved in two waterfront development projects. “There’s a lot of interest.” 

The core of the growth started three years ago when Massport signed on the China Ocean Shipping Company and its partners to do a direct route to China. That gave companies such as the Christmas Tree Shops, Staples and others incentive to use Boston’s port, Leone said. 

The International Forest Products Co., which uses ports all along the East Coast, boosted its shipments out of Boston by 50 percent last year largely because of the China route, said President Dan Kraft. 

“It’s easier and it cuts down on delivery time,” he said. 

The need for East Coast ports is expected to grow with more trade coming from Southern China and India. Traders from those areas are expected to ship through the Suez Canal rather than sending ships to California. 

Massport hopes to be ready with a number of waterfront renovations. The organization is spending $25 million to increase space at its Conley Terminal. In addition, Marine Terminal Development LLC, a collaboration of several companies, has just driven the piles for a $50 million cargo warehouse. Another group broke ground late last year on a $52 million international cargo handling facility in Boston’s Marine Industrial Park.