A plan for the port Strategic focus: Finding niches crucial for growth of Baltimore's maritime industry.

July 07, 1996

TAY YOSHITANI has big plans for the Port of Baltimore. That's good news for the local maritime industry that has been in the dumps in recent decades. The director of the Maryland Port Administration uses two apparently contradictory terms to describe his vision: diversification and focus. Baltimore has to diversify its cargo mix, he says, by focusing firmly on niches where this port has distinct advantages. He has come up with a strategic five-year plan -- a first for the port -- with specific targeted growth areas.

Instead of going after a wide variety of containerized cargo, Baltimore will zero in on opportunities where the port's geographic advantages, good rail and highway connections and uncluttered, modernized facilities give it an edge. Examples include expanded trade with Latin America, more north-south shipping routes that favor Baltimore and around-the-world steamship service, where Baltimore's geography close to a huge market is important. A fourth berth at the high-tech Seagirt Terminal may entice container lines, too.

The biggest target is non-containerized cargo. Port officials intend to double the steel handled here by promoting proximity to the mills, a good facility at North Locust Point and skilled labor known for its safe handling of steel.

Timber is another focal point, with a new facility a key. Roll-on, roll-off heavy equipment and autos have found favor, too. Mr. Yoshitani wants to make Baltimore No. 1 on the East Coast in this category.

A major push will be into fruits and vegetables -- perishables that often need chilling and always need tender loving care. A refrigerated warehouse is a must, but so is a port-wide plan for going after this new business.

Leveraging the port's strengths is the goal. But it won't work unless there is broad support. Labor unions will have to modify work rules and rates. Private-sector firms will have to offer incentives and discounts. Railroads will have to become active participants in selling the port and making rail service faster and more convenient to shippers. The state should enthusiastically support a large construction and land-acquisition program.

It's good to have a strategic plan at the port. Uniting behind it and then making it work is the hard part that now must be achieved.

Pub Date: 7/07/96

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