US West Coast ports: The benefits of change

It is well documented that U.S. West Coast ports face a number of competitive challenges. Some of these challenges involve canals, both near and far, old and improved; terminal development throughout North America; challenging and costly environmental regulations; lengthy and often agonizing permitting processes; and aggressive marketing by East and Gulf coast states and ports.

Despite these challenges, there is much reason for optimism. West Coast ports are evolving. New port commissioners were elected in Seattle last year and have interjected a new energy and focus for both the port and the region. The Port of Seattle is also beginning the process of finding a new chief executive officer, leading the port into another chapter. Coupled with these changes, Seattle and the Port of Tacoma, which is blessed with a solid management team and commission, have filed an agreement with the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) and are in discussions that may yield another evolutionary step in how both ports jointly address growing competitive threats.

The Port of Oakland Harbor Commission is focused on the port’s core business activities, as demonstrated with the hiring of highly respected Chris Lytle last year as their new executive director and the recent hire of industry leader John Driscoll as maritime director.

Last year’s election of Eric Garcetti as mayor of Los Angeles and the election this past week of Robert Garcia as mayor of Long Beach are bringing change at each port. The Port of Los Angeles just announced the widely praised appointment of APL’s Gene Seroka as the new executive director of the port, with the expectation that there will be an announcement from Long Beach coming soon. Both ports have also seen new appointments in their respective commissions, bringing a new attitude at each port.

With these changes, coupled with talented staff at each of these ports, West Coast ports are well positioned to convert challenges into opportunities.

John McLaurin is president of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association. Contact him at

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