What can Port of Tacoma do to become more competitive with the Canadian ports?

To recap, Vancouver has a slight edge in certain factors like the cost of transiting terminals, they have more large super-post-Panamax cranes, they have slightly better rail delivery rates through state-subsidized Canadian National Rail, slightly better productivity, and they get a break of about $100 per container on Harbor Maintenance Tax.  And they have massive plans for expansion.

One of the most obvious things we can do to improve our competitive position is to improve our productivity, and having modern, state of the art equipment would make it a lot easier.  The slight edge Vancouver enjoys in productivity could easily be attributed to the fact that they’ve spent a lot of money upgrading their cranes and yard equipment.

Continue reading “What can Port of Tacoma do to become more competitive with the Canadian ports?”

Port Metro Vancouver or Port of Tacoma? Who’s got the edge?





According to a report prepared for Port Metro Vancouver (PMV), their Container Traffic Forecast (which again, I encourage everyone to read), they predict that West Coast container volumes will increase between 3.4% and 5.7% per year through 2030.  Based on that, they’re forecasting their share of the traffic will provide increases for PMV from 3.51 million TEUs in 2014 to 7.02 million TEUs in 2030.

According to the report, they believe they will capture the lion’s share of this work because:

“…Vancouver is considered to have a better competitive position than its immediate competitors – Prince Rupert, Seattle, and Tacoma – based on a review of the following criteria:

  • Physical capability of the terminals;
  • Planned development of capacity;
  • Productivity of the terminals;
  • Cost of transiting the terminals;
  • Delivered costs to Central Canada and the US Midwest;
  • Intermodal capacity;
  • Import/export balances;
  • Suitability as a regional hub; and
  • Existing customer base.

Continue reading “Port Metro Vancouver or Port of Tacoma? Who’s got the edge?”

Port of Tacoma – moving boldly into the future, or sliding into oblivion?


I read a really good book recently, on the evolution of container shipping:  The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger, by Marc Levinson.   It’s a great book.  Anyone interested in understanding the Port of Tacoma and/or the shipping business should read it.

One of the things that struck me was how quickly the shipping world transitioned from “breakbulk” cargo to containers.  Breakbulk was where everything was all shipped individually, or more recently, on pallets. It’s the same basic system that’s been used for hundreds of years. A breakbulk ship might take a week or more to unload, as everything was taken off piece by piece. But put the same amount of cargo in containers and the ship could be unloaded in just hours.   The cost savings from containerization were enormous. In the mid-50’s, the world was breakbulk; by the start of the 70’s, container shipping was big business.

It wasn’t an easy transition at all; the push to containerize was very contentious with many, diverse elements of the industry including the unions fighting it.  The ports as a whole were very skeptical – transitioning to working containers was quite an expensive proposition because of the specialized equipment necessary.

A few forward-looking ports including Tacoma decided to take the plunge, investing heavily in container cranes and handling equipment.  Many other ports did not, believing breakbulk would prevail.

Continue reading “Port of Tacoma – moving boldly into the future, or sliding into oblivion?”

An open letter to the Tacoma City Council and Port Commissioners


Self determination is really important to Americans. That is after all, why we fought the Revolutionary War — so the American people could decide their own fate, not King George and the English aristocracy.

Well it’s obvious some people in Tacoma have forgotten that.

Most elected leaders in this democracy would err on the side of the democratic process. If a sufficient number of citizens were riled up about any particular issue to qualify an initiative for an election, the leaders would typically champion that as our democracy at work, and then abide by the results. That is what a democracy is all about. Rule for the people, of the people and by the people.

Except in Tacoma. In Tacoma, when the common people have the sheer effrontery to challenge the supreme wisdom of their elected leaders, the leaders go to court and file massive lawsuits to beat and club and force the people into submission.

The lawsuit brought jointly by the Port of Tacoma, the The Chamber of Commerce, the EDB and now the City of Tacoma against the Save Tacoma Water organizers unmasks the dictatorial, authoritarian style of our current elected leaders.

Continue reading “An open letter to the Tacoma City Council and Port Commissioners”

To be, or not to be…

hero_image_main_2This current presidential election will be perhaps the single most important event the United States has faced in a hundred or more years.  Never before has there been such a wide range and disparity between the different candidates.  Never before has there been so much at stake.

This is where we decide if we’re a representative democracy or an oligarchy.

What has our country come to?

The answer is that there have been some very fundamental, mostly gradual changes in   recent years that brought us to where we are now. The biggest single, most disastrous event was the advent of the Citizen’s United, Supreme Court decision. This is where the oligarchs – the 1%, truly took over control of our country. 

As President Jimmy Carter observed about Citizen’s United,

“It violates the essence of what made America a great country in its political system. Now [the United States is] just an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president or to elect the president. And the same thing applies to governors and U.S. senators and congress members. So now we’ve just seen a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors, who want and expect and sometimes get favors for themselves after the election’s over.”

 It’s true. If someone dumps massive amounts of cash into a politician’s campaign, they do expect results. The politicians are not dummies, they know what’s expected. And they have a vested interest to keep the money coming in, so they work diligently to protect the interests of the people who bankrolled them.  Continue reading “To be, or not to be…”

Happy Labor Day to us all!

Picketer's being beaten by police









In a day and age when organized labor seems largely irrelevant to many, this is an appropriate time to stop and reflect on the gains made by unions in the past 100 years.

Although no one seems to remember now, some of the most basic protections we presently enjoy – like Social Security and Unemployment Insurance – came to workers courtesy of the push from organized labor. This package also includes the 40-hour workweek, the minimum wage, overtime, the child labor laws and much more, including some very basic things like the right to join a union and the right to strike. Most of this was enacted as parts of President Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation.

But none of these rights and protections were just handed to the workers, even if they were part of Roosevelt’s New Deal. People died to obtain these protections.
The years leading up to the New Deal – particularly the 20’s and 30’s – were a bloody, bitter time for workers. Strikes – where people died for their union beliefs – were commonplace.

Back in those days, the typical scenario was that the workers would go on strike or get locked out, and then the employers would hire scabs, and detectives (like the Pinkerton’s or the notorious Baldwin-Felts Agencies) to “protect” the scabs. Then the war was on.

The strikers were most often cast as “Commies” or communist-dominated in propaganda put out by the employers – the “Red Menace” was a very common theme. The Chamber of Commerce and other civic organizations usually backed the employers. Often, local citizen groups, augmented (or supplanted) by the hired detectives and backed by the local governments formed “posses” and took on the strikers in open warfare – all in the name of “civic virtue” (cleaning out the Red’s). Occasionally the National Guard even got into the act.

Good examples of this sort of open labor warfare include The Ludlow Massacre (1914), The Battle of Matewan (part of the West Virginia Coal Wars – 1920), the Battle of Blair Mountain (1921), The Herrin Massacre (1922), The Columbine Mine Massacre (1927), The Auto-Lite Strike of 1934, The Minneapolis Teamsters Strike (1934) and the 1934 West Coat Maritime Strike (which evolved into the West Coast General Strike of 1934).
Hundreds and hundreds of workers died in those years, fighting for even the most basic of protections.

Continue reading “Happy Labor Day to us all!”