Right Leadership Key to Port of Long Beach

It is no overstatement to say that the economic wellbeing of Long Beach, Southern California and our state is dramatically impacted by the volume of international trade flowing through the Port of Long Beach.

Approximately 30,000 jobs in Long Beach are due to port-related activity — and the port is responsible for an equally impressive 316,000 jobs for the five county Southern California region. In addition, port-related trade generates approximately $4.9 billion a year in local, state and general federal taxes.

But despite a long history of success, serious challenges face the Port of Long Beach — as well as other West Coast ports.

The coming New Year will pose a number of external challenges for the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, as well as Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma. Increasing competition by other port gateways in Canada, Mexico and the Gulf and East Coast states, a shifting of some manufacturing from China to other countries, greater use of the Suez Canal, and an expanded Panama Canal, combined with the cost of numerous California-only environmental regulations impacting the supply chain, will influence cargo routing in the coming years.

Equally important, the maritime industry itself is going through an evolution with the consolidation of terminal operations at several West Coast ports and the creation of new vessel alliances in which ocean carriers share vessel space and services. These changes will result in winners and losers in the chase for cargo and jobs.

Internally, the Port of Long Beach is challenged by the loss of a number of talented and respected senior managers over the past several years. This turnover is coupled with more recent controversial and politicized changes at the Harbor Commission involving the removal and resignation of two commissioners, who were widely respected and liked by port tenants and customers.

After a six-month delay, the Port’s search for a new executive director is finally starting to move forward, but it comes at a time when several other ports are embarking on similar searches to replace their own executive directors. The neighboring Port of Los Angeles is beginning the process of finding a permanent replacement for the recently retired Dr. Geraldine Knatz. In addition, the Port of Seattle will be looking to find a replacement for its Chief Executive Officer, Tay Yoshitani. Each port is unique in terms of structure and philosophy and face their own individual challenges, but Los Angeles and Seattle benefit from a lack of the drama that has surrounded Long Beach over the past several years.

Despite the challenges — some of which are faced by all ports, others which are specific to Long Beach — the Port of Long Beach has plenty to offer the international trade community. The port still has a dedicated and respected staff; large and modern terminals; billions of dollars invested by its tenants for ongoing projects — coupled by public sector dollars provided primarily by revenue generated by port customers; deep water to handle the latest generation of vessels that will be too large to go through the newly expanded Panama Canal; a talented pilot service and a labor force that is committed to the port’s success.

Held in trust for the people of California, the Port of Long Beach is a critical component of the overall vitality of the city, Southern California, the state and national economies. Under the right leadership, its ability to attract international trade and the tens of thousands of jobs that are dependent on that activity will continue to benefit all.

John McLaurin is president of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association. Contact him at jmclaurin@pmsaship.com.

This article first appeared in Gazette Newspapers, www.gazettes.com.

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