Happy Valentine’s Day. Consider this the typographical equivalent of a sampler box of chocolates. No taking a bite out of one, deciding you don’t like it and putting it back.
▪ Of the various competitive disadvantages the seaports in Tacoma and Seattle must overcome, one they don’t have is sailing up a river to get to the actual piers and terminals.
That was long a limiting factor for the Port of Portland. While it’s strategically placed to intercept traffic coming down the Columbia, such as wheat, for containers there’s still that small matter of a 103-mile trip from the port to the ocean.
Ready access to open and deep water will be increasingly important if the trend in international container shipping continues to ever more massive vessels.
A favored technique in describing just how massive those vessels are is to liken them to a skyscraper such as the Empire State Building on its side. China Shipping Group’s 1,300-foot-long Indian Ocean recently became as mobile as the Empire State Building turned sideways when it ran aground in the Elbe River, the access to the Port of Hamburg in Germany; the port is 70 miles from the North Sea. It took multiple attempts, a dozen tugs and offloading fuel to get it afloat again.
Both local ports have projects in mind to accommodate Triple Es (19,000 containers) and beyond. Will shipping lines be buying them? There’s an open question. In November Maersk Line said it is not picking up the option for six 19,630 TEU vessels and is postponing a decision on options for eight 14,000 TEU vessels. A slump in global shipping volumes got the blame.
The question that looms over the local projects is whether that slump is short-term or more permanent. If volumes do recover and shipping lines decide they do want more gargantuan container ships, Tacoma and Seattle can market themselves on the ease of pulling right up for loading and unloading, without a river voyage or the risk of having to call the maritime equivalent of AAA if you get stuck.
▪ The news that Tacoma-based Internet security firm IID has been acquired by Infoblox, a Santa Clara, California, company is a nice validation of what the company has accomplished, and the $45 million going to investors a nice reward for their perseverance in building the company.
Still, one can’t help a twinge of regret that the company is being sold and the home office is now out of state.
IID was a big chunk of Tacoma’s tech sector. Having companies of even modest size (IID has about 65 employees) based here raises the community’s profile and helps seed the ground for the next round of startups. The community benefits too in having companies whose employees support other businesses and philanthropic and civic activities.
Infoblox says it will maintain an office in Tacoma, and there might be opportunities for expansion. We’ll see. Churn is normal in tech, so none of this should come as too much of a shock. Still, it’s a reminder that you can’t rest in keeping the entrepreneurial pipeline full of tomorrow’s candidates to grow into the next IID — or even bigger.
▪ One of the questions that pops up in various forums is when will the office market for places not named South Lake Union show improvement. The standard answer: When CEOs, especially those in the aforementioned tech center, are broken of the current businessthink that the only employees worth hiring are those who want to work in the middle of a dense urban center.
Weyerhaeuser is not a high-tech company (least not according to conventional definitions; a lot of what it does is indeed science and tech-intense). But it wants in on that scene, so it’s moving from its landmark building in Federal Way to offices in Pioneer Square this year. It would be fascinating to see in five years what sort of retention rate the company has among established employees who can’t afford Seattle residential prices and don’t savor a long commute.
One more piece of that move fell into place with the sale of the Federal Way campus to Los Angeles-based Industrial Realty Group for $70.5 million. IRG says its long-term plan is for development of the property. “Historically, the site has been a single-occupant corporate campus, but leasing will determine its future positioning,” said Stuart Lichter, president of IRG, in a release. “There is nothing in the market similar to this campus.”
But there is a lot of office space available in Federal Way — 22.1 percent in the Federal Way-Auburn submarket, according to fourth-quarter data from Jones Lang LaSalle; some of that likely came from previous waves of Weyerhaeuser downsizing. With more space being added to the region’s portfolio, competition will only get more intense for whatever IRG envisions.
And yet — there’s got to be a contrarian or two out there who looks at the talent pool, office vacancy rates, lease rates, housing costs and commuting times and figures, “Let the herd pack itself in ever tighter in Seattle. I can make a nice little living out here by cutting my own costs as well as the life hassles of my employees.”
You just have to find them.
Bill Virgin is editor and publisher of Washington Manufacturing Alert and Pacific Northwest Rail News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.