Port of Seattle: Investors are losing confidence in our seaport

Photo of empty Port of Seattle Container Terminals

Yesterday a story broke on yet another downgrade in the port’s bond rating, this time from stable to negative by Moody’s Investors Service. Investors are losing confidence, can we really keep doing the same things we’ve been doing for the past 100 years? We need new ideas, and new leadership to ensure our port is competitive in the twenty-first century. That is why I’m running for port commission.

I took the picture posted with this article on my way to work today around 9:45 AM. What good is having the greenest port on the west coast if no one is using it? In the photo, you can see many of the Container Terminals including all of T-46 and T-18 as well as the north half of T-30. There is enough berths for over 8 container ships, yet only one is present. So, at this one point in time, there is less than 15% utilization of the seaport.

Don’t think I just picked a bad day. A 2010 federal report on port utilization estimated the Port of Seattle is running at about 35% capacity for the number of ships docking per year (berth calls). That number falls to 21% when you factor in losses in productivity due to vessels that are under the maximum capacity. The United States average is 34% and the maximum is estimated to be about 80% (though Savannah, Georgia is at 89%). The Canadian ports average in the high 60s. So we are running at about two thirds of average and a quarter of maximum. Could our problem be that we bought and built more port than we can support?

Our port is over capacity and we are losing business. Our creditors noticed, and it’s going to be more difficult to expand. I feel we need to do two things to fix this problem:

We live in a world powered by technology. Seattle is the home to Amazon, one of the worlds best logistics companies. They specialize in storing, locating, and shipping goods. The same ideas and technologies can be applied to the port, reducing our costs and increasing our efficiency. We have the greenest port on the west coast, let’s leverage our local tech giants to make it the fastest and most cost effective too.

We need to treat the other Washington ports in the Puget Sound as our business partners rather than competitors. The Port of Seattle and Port of Tacoma are two very different places. Seattle can support much larger ships, but Tacoma is a lower cost location. If instead of competing, we work together, both ports can be stronger. Both ports have different specialties, we should leverage those specialties to ensure the ports of Puget Sound competitive against the lower cost ports in Prince Rupert and Vancouver.

We need real change if we want to remain competitive. Please see my campaign for Port of Seattle Commissioner Position Number 3 for more information.