Mike Leone, port director of the Massachusetts Port Authority, plans to retire at the end of September after 14 years on the job.
“It’s been a good run,” he said in an interview with the JOC.
Leone, 63, developed the Port of Boston as an important container port for the New England region and nurtured the spectacular growth of its cruise business.
When he took over as port director in 1998 on what he thought was an interim basis, Boston was served by only one container line, Mediterranean Shipping Co., with a service from North Europe and the Mediterranean, a small feeder service from Halifax and barge service from New York.
Leone quickly realized the importance of landing a service from the Far East. “When I first came in we were served for the Far East through either the West Coast or New York by rail and truck, which cost the New England trade community a significant amount of money in drayage costs.”
By 2002, he landed Cosco and its partners in the CKYH alliance, “K” Line, Yang Ming and Hanjin, in an all-water service form Asia via the Panama Canal. “The ability to bring Cosco in, and have that service in here for 10 years now, is what I am most proud of,” he said. “We’ve had great support from the trade community and from labor in dealing with Cosco.”
The Cosco service is used for imports from China by such local retailers as Staples, Jordan’s Furniture and Christmas Tree Shops. “We’re a New England port, and we handle New England cargo, so our market is the area 120 miles around the port.”
With Cosco in his pocket, Leone was able to invest $250 million in expanding Boston’s container-handling facility. “Cosco and MSC gave us the ability to continue expansion, buying more cranes and additional land to expand the Conley Terminal.”
Massport purchased new rubber-tire gantries and dockside cranes and 30 adjacent acres to expand its container yard. “We’ve been able to modernize the facility and handle the Cosco and MSC vessels.”
Leon’s one disappointment was the loss of the feeder service from Halifax this year and prior loss of barge service from Portland, Maine.
“With the larger ships calling Boston, it made it difficult for short-sea shippers,” he said.
He said the channel into Boston harbor still needs to be deepened. Massport is finishing its application to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for dredging the harbor down to 47 feet.
In the 10 years since Cosco started calling Boston, the volume of containers moving through the port increased 40 percent to 193,000 20-foot-equivalent units from 142,000 TEUs in 2002.
In addition to his Massport responsibilities, Leone served two terms as chairman of the American Association of Port Authorities, in 2003-2004 and 2009-2010, where he pushed for more national focus on ports and port development. He is gratified with what he is seeing now.
“I see more focus on port infrastructure and port investment, particularly for job creation through the National Export Initiative. It’s all good for the ports,” he said. “I’m pleased that we’ve been able to get the focus on ports and rail infrastructure.”