WHAT A VICTORY for Baltimore.
No, not the football championship. We're talking about Baltimore's massive deal with the world's leading roll-on/ roll-off shipping company.
It's a maritime comeback of Super Bowl proportions, one that makes Baltimore the dominant force among East Coast ports when it comes to "ro/ro" vehicles -- cars, trucks and farm equipment.
Wallenius Wilhelmsen, the giant Scandinavian steamship line, now will make Baltimore its largest North American "load center." More than 600,000 tons of cargo per year are expected to pass through its hub at Dundalk Marine Terminal, enough to create 1,000 more jobs on the waterfront.
Organized labor played a big role in making this happen.
Longshoremen are the offensive linemen of a port, providing the muscle and expertise to move cargo rapidly on and off docks. Not only do Baltimore's longshoremen have a reputation for gentle handling of ro/ro vehicles, but the union made major work-rule concessions to win this contract.
And no wonder. The volume of cargo could vastly exceed projections: The shipping line will use 50 acres at Dundalk initially, but could triple that acreage later.
Baltimore's strategy of aiming for niche cargo is moving into high gear. Last fall, two Finnish paper producers made Baltimore their port of call for magazine-grade paper. Automobile processing, meanwhile, continues to soar. And there's room for further expansion at the state's Masonville terminal.
This flurry of deals coincides with a decision by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to delay an assessment of deepening the C&D Canal -- the northern shortcut from the Atlantic Ocean to Baltimore. It was a wise move.
Baltimore's upswing could drastically change shipping volume and the need for a deeper C&D. But we won't know if such a project is necessary for some time. The Army Corps will have a far better perspective in 2004.
It's vital that the port -- a major economic engine -- grow. Efforts like the state's relentless pursuit of Wallenius Wilhelmsen are important. It's a sweet triumph for maritime leaders, as sweet as a Super Bowl victory.