Port of Portland, Ore.

Port of Portland, Ore.

When it comes to predictions for the year ahead, one answer gets recycled enough to be a cliché: “cautious optimism.” Usually that just means you have little clue of what’s to come, but remain positive despite the uncertainty.

Compared to a mostly anemic 2009, ports saw recovery in 2010 in varying degrees. Beyond double-digit increases in many cargo categories, we’re seeing people flying more often; we’re seeing shippers, carriers, truckers and railroads returning to profitability; and we’re seeing longshore workers back on the job. These are all good things for consolidated ports.

Like an economic butterfly effect, events on the other side of the world often affect circumstances at home. When I look at the year ahead, I am encouraged by the increasing demand for U.S. exports from the fast-growing middle class in China. Demand for high quality food is a prime opportunity for suppliers and ports in the Pacific Northwest and for the U.S. as a whole. The Chinese are not capable of producing all that they need, and U.S. producers are well situated to help fill the gap.

Grain, soybeans, corn and potash are a few of the commodities well positioned for growth. Soybean exports alone are expected to reach a record 41.4 million tons this year, making it our country’s largest export to China in terms of both value and volume. Exports such as these benefit import cargo economics as well.

Sustained growth yields stability and predictability, which our industry has been lacking as of late. As we move beyond the green shoots of recovery, it is clear the road back will be more gradual than the one that got us here. But things are getting better, and that’s reason enough to stay cautiously optimistic for now. After all, it beats unbridled pessimism.