The ports of Tacoma and Seattle have been holding closed-door meetings to discuss strategies to counter long-term competitive threats to their operations.
The commissioners did emerge long enough this week to disclose what everyone already knows – that there have been meetings, and that the ports have some big challenges. Other than one commissioner proclaiming that the meetings are not a prelude to a merger, little of actual value or interest – such as what if anything the ports intend to actually do – was disclosed.
The legality of those closed meetings is being challenged – the ports had to get a federal waiver to hold the joint sessions – but in the meantime we imagine what a secret briefing memo might say:
On the West Coast alone, we face container-traffic competition from Prince Rupert, Vancouver, Portland, Oakland and Los Angeles/Long Beach. Even the Mexicans are making noises about grabbing a few slices of our dessert. And don’t get us started on listing all the Gulf and East Coast ports that are dredging and expanding to accommodate all the supersized vessels that will fit through the Panama Canal once the widening gets done.
Did we mention that more fists are reaching for fewer plates, that container volumes aren’t growing to justify all this capacity – a trend that reshoring (moving more production work back to the U.S.), while great for the American economy, could make our situation even worse?
Worse still, the locals aren’t all that convinced of our importance to the local economy, at least not when balanced with the taxpayer subsidies we seem to require. When given the option of choosing between the port or a basketball arena that may never be built and also will be publicly subsidized, the voters of Seattle might decide that they’d prefer the arena, or neither one.
Just to move to the next session on a depressing note, we have options – but not very attractive or useful ones.
Given the urgency of the matter and the cost and complexity of options, we recommend a truly and uniquely Northwest approach – keep talking, commission more reports, hire more consultants, hold more meetings but don’t commit to anything, in the hope that the difficulty will either resolve itself or go away, or that people will become so bored with it that they forget it was ever a subject of concern.
The preceeding was parody. But how much of a parody? How out there was it really? Hmm, now there’s an interesting question.