Port of Tacoma Pleased with Progress in its 10-Year Goals

By John Gillie, April 5, 2013, The News Tribune

A year after the Port of Tacoma set ambitious 10-year goals for improvements in port business, finances, jobs and environmental cleanups, the port commission Thursday gave its staff high marks for their progress in meeting those objectives.

“This is really exceptional,” said port commissioner Connie Bacon after Sue Mauermann, the port’s chief facilities officer, reviewed the first 12 months’ results.

The numbers spoke clearly about how the port has moved closer to its objectives:

• The port saw the number of container units handled at the port increase by 13.3 percent in the last year. That puts the port on track to meet its goal of three million container units crossing its dock in 2021. That’s twice the number the port handled in 2011. Credit that increase to the arrival of the Grand Alliance container shipping consortium at the port in midsummer last year. The container numbers should continue increasing in the next year, when the Grand Alliance has a full year of doing business at the port.

• The port’s dry bulk business decreased by 7.5 percent last year. Dry bulk commodities are products such as grain and gypsum. The port’s goal was to double that volume in 10 years. But Mauermann told commissioners that market changes makes adding liquid bulk commodities such as crude oil to that standard will make that measurement more relevant. The port signed a big contract this year with a petroleum products distribution company to build a major tank farm and rail yard on the site of the former Kaiser Aluminum smelter. Once that facility is operating in 2014, it should add considerably to the port’s bulk business.

• The port last year exceeded its plan to increase its breakbulk volume to 200,000 short tons in 10 years. Breakbulk items increased by 68 percent last year at the port to 260,000 tons. Breakbulk cargo is items such as tractors and construction machinery too large to fit in shipping containers. Demand for mining and construction machinery in Australia and the Far East last year boosted the port’s breakbulk traffic beyond expectations.

• Auto import volumes were among the few disappointments at the port last year with the number of vehicles declining by 8.7 percent to 148,000. Mauermann attributed that decrease to market shifts.

• The port’s operating margins fattened by 6.5 percent last year putting the port on plan to increase those 30 percent at the end of the 10 years.

• The port is well on its way to increase its net income by 50 percent with a jump of 17.5 percent in 2012.

• The port’s return on assets increased by 13.9 percent in a single year in 2012. The 10-year goal is for a 35 percent increase.

• On the environmental side, the port’s plan calls for it to clean up 200 more acres by 2021. While it cleaned up no additional land last year, it made preparations for cleaning up 111 acres next year, an accomplishment that will put it ahead of schedule in reaching the 200-acre goal.

• Diesel pollutants declined by 23.8 percent at the port last year, putting it on schedule to reduce those pollutants by 85 percent in 10 years. Mauermann said that future changes to lower sulphur fuels by ships and the use of natural gas in Alaska trailership company TOTE should move the port closer to that goal.

• While the port hasn’t done a comprehensive survey of increases of port-related jobs, the increase in just longshore union jobs last year has put the port on schedule to meet its goal for increases of 6,700 direct and indirect jobs by 2021.

Commissioners praised port staff members for sticking with their promise to make its strategic plan an active document, not just decoration for a book shelf.

“I think this is the only way to stay on track,” said Commissioner Don Johnson. “It keeps us moving forward.”

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