In a briefing Tuesday for the Maryland Port Commission, deputy planning director Jim Dwyer said that while the national growth rate for ports last year was 3 percent, Baltimore saw a 15 percent increase.

Container volume totaled 2.3 million tons, the second-highest amount ever for Baltimore. Auto shipments were up 32 percent, and the port was ranked second in the United States for exported coal.

Australia, the world's largest coal exporter, was forced to close 75 percent of its mines early last year after epic flooding destroyed equipment and damaged rail lines. Asia's steel mills had to scramble for other sources of coal — to Baltimore's profit, Dwyer said.

The port exported 19.2 million tons of coal from its two privately owned terminals last year, shattering the 2010 total, which had been a record.

Maryland Transportation Secretary Beverley Swaim-Staley said the study's findings reinforced the business model the port is using as it upgrades the Seagirt terminal to accommodate massive "Panamax" cargo ships in two years — and as it secured deals with three of the world's largest container shipping companies.

"What we are seeing is that we have so much capability that when markets change, we can adapt and do very well," she said. "We're not dependent on just one commodity. We're able to react."

Istrate said it was important for Maryland's leaders to continue to play to their strengths and maintain their "global fluency."

"The world is changing rapidly," she said. "Your competition is not necessarily another U.S. metro area. It could be in Europe or China."

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