The other shoe dropped for the Port of Seattle on Wednesday when Hamburg Sud said it would move its container business to Tacoma. This wasn’t unexpected after the Grand Alliance lines announced earlier this year that it would take a sweet deal and shift to the Port of Tacoma, which has direct rail-to-dock access and plenty of excess capacity.
But the big story remains the same: Puget Sound ports are losing container market share, however much they play Battleship with each other. This is happening even before the wider Panama Canal opens or Prince Rupert, B.C., really gets its footing as a straight shot for cargo to the American Midwest. This reality doesn’t really care whether Tacoma feels vindicated after supposed and real Seattle slights, or whether Seattle risks taking for granted a seaport that is a foundation of the blue-collar middle class. It doesn’t care whether organized labor risks destroying its own jobs in a battle for short-haul truckers where morality and fair play are on its side.
Behind this is a Boeing moment, as in when the company set up a Dreamliner assembly in South Carolina and the future of aerospace in the Puget Sound region seemed dangerously close to slipping. Leaders across a spectrum of interests came together to save this critical economic cluster and put it on a new competitive footing.
It’s time for the governor and other leaders to step up and push for a plan that will reverse the trend. We need both container ports (and, yes, we can have an arena, too). We need them to be adding new business, not just taking from each other. The timing is tough, with a slowing U.S. economy crimping Asian exports and the eurozone in recession. But it won’t get easier. And a solution must go beyond marketing, or even calming down Pierce County paranoia — more collaboration won’t let Seattle steal your port. It will require serious investment in infrastructure, as is happening in Southern California. The alternative is a lose-lose for everybody.
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Today’s Econ Haiku:
A day past solstice
Druid traders place their bets
Short on everything