The Tie That Binds

Over the past several years, I’ve had the incredible good fortune to be able to shift the emphasis of my work from its focus on shipping lines, service contracts, delivery deadlines and cargo claims to an entirely different set of new, but related area of businesses.

This all began in 2005, when I joined the Port of Portland, Ore. One of my earliest assignments was to represent the port at an Industrial Real Estate conference in Long Beach, Calif. After a few hours of coaching from the port’s properties manager, off I went. While not yet a “top-of-mind” subject within our industry’s mainstream, without a thriving industrial and commercial real estate sector adjacent (or at least accessible) to our ports, where would all that cargo actually go? Thus, my career shift began.

Closely connected to the actual real estate development component of the work was another area new to me: economic development. Now that I had some industrial real estate fundamentals, the next step was to join meetings of the local region’s economic development professionals. Although existing in both public and private sectors, our regional public sector economic development agencies became my new area of focus.

These agencies exist at all levels of government — city, county, state and regional — and combine and separate to suit needs and situations, but the primary purpose is to attract new business to their defined area and to ensure the retention and expansion of existing business. The connection to real estate is clear: Business has to work from a place, so you need places in order for business to have somewhere to locate. (The JOC’s Inland Port Logistics conference is a good place to start if this area holds interest for readers.)

The Port of Portland was keenly interested in how these pieces fit together and recognized how working together with other agencies whose mandates included attracting companies to our area would benefit the port’s mission. This mutual interest came into even greater focus when we recognized the centrality of the port’s position within the constellation of all businesses when it comes to international trade.

Although intimately connected to the region’s domestic transportation infrastructure (cargo has to come from and go to somewhere), the port’s work is almost exclusively focused on international trade. Other business agencies, entities and organizations, both public and private, typically have a more mixed local, regional, national and international focus. Thus, there is a need for the port to be as engaged as possible in as many international business activities as possible within the area’s business framework and organization.

It is in this way, over a period of several years, beginning during my time working at the port and extending through the past few years working for them, that this shift in my work has occurred. From industrial real estate to economic development, to recognizing the many types of organizations and their activities within our government and business sectors, we have come to a place where it becomes possible to leverage the expertise and resources to create joint programs and projects that produce benefit across the spectrum of business activities within our region.

During the last week of October, I attended a trade show in Hong Kong with the state of Oregon’s Business Development Department. We were accompanied by several Oregon companies offering a variety of products and services that attracted attention from the hundreds of other companies attending the show. During our time in Hong Kong, we had a business briefing from the U.S. consul general in Hong Kong and his team of local specialists. In addition, the local representatives from the U.S. Commerce Department and their Export Assistance Office provided information regarding conditions in Hong Kong and mainland China.

All of this provides a powerful message of how our business connects to the broader economy and the activities of thousands of our colleagues working behind the scenes to ensure the growth of U.S. exports and overall international trade.

Barry Horowitz is the principal of CMS Consulting Services. Contact him at 503-208-2232 or at barryh@cms-cs.com.

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