DRAMATIC changes in the shipping world have hurt the port of Baltimore. That's why finding a niche for this port became the No. 1 goal for Tay Yoshitani when he arrived in 1995. Now Mr. Yoshitani is leaving, just as his strategic plan starts to pay off.
Geography, once a key factor in Baltimore's maritime success (its port is closest to the Midwest) now works against the city. More and more shipping lines avoid Baltimore because of the long, time-consuming steam up the bay.
To overcome that obstacle, Mr. Yoshitani unveiled a well-researched plan that focuses on areas in which Baltimore has an edge: roll-on/roll-off vehicles, such as farm equipment, heavy machinery and cars; break-bulk cargo, such as fruits and flowers; specialized cargo, such as forest products; and certain kinds of container shipments.
He also managed to bridge the gap between labor and management by persuading them that their livelihoods depended on lowering shipping costs and turnaround time for steamships.
That is vital in the cutthroat competition among ports.
No longer is Baltimore a premier load center. It is increasingly a feeder port. It must scramble to find specialties where it can be an industry leader, as in automobiles.
Mr. Yoshitani leaves next month for a job with broader duties in Oakland, Calif. His successor faces a difficult task. Not only must the strategic plan be implemented, but the port badly needs to find a way to persuade the two local railroads -- CSX and soon Norfolk Southern -- to spend whatever it takes to allow double-stacking of cargo on trains. A state subsidy may be required.
Also, the next port chief must generate new business. For instance, gridlocked railroads on the West Coast could mean more cargo from Pacific Rim countries being sent via the Suez Canal to the East Coast.
A better facility for cruise-line passengers might give Baltimore an edge, too. So might a deeper harbor approach to accommodate larger container ships.
Cargo passing through the port of Baltimore declined in 1996 but rose by 5 percent last year and was up 9 percent in early 1998. Keeping that momentum will take considerable flexibility and ingenuity. What this port needs is another Tay Yoshitani.
Pub Date: 6/17/98