Complicating the situation, the maritime industry itself is going through an evolution with the consolidation of terminal operations at West Coast ports, along with the creation of vessel alliances in which the world’s largest ocean carriers are maximizing shared vessel space and services, which means fewer ship calls at fewer ports. 

Path of least resistance

Given all these forces, there is a chase for cargo and jobs. And, at the end of the day, cargo has no loyalty. It will seek the path of least resistance. 

It wasn’t too long ago that the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles enjoyed steady, predictable growth. During those years, there was an arrogance voiced by some that cargo had to come through California, and especially these two ports. The Great Recession, coupled with port development in other parts of North America, changed the equation. 

As both ports search for new executive directors, those who lead our ports must know that all of California’s ports are an asset of the state and held in trust by their cities for all the people of California. Who leads our ports is not only important for our respective cities and their economy, but for the Southern California region, our state and our nation. Our ports need leadership with the international trade experience to lead a multibillion-dollar enterprise coupled with sensitivity to local needs.

Even in the face of these challenges, the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles have a history and all the elements of success – they have tenants and customers who are willing to invest in facilities and improve environmental performance coupled with a skilled workforce – but we need local and state government to be partners instead of adversaries and to realize the port’s extremely important role in creating jobs and business opportunities.

John McLaurin is president of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, which represents owners and operators of port terminals and ship lines.