Winning business for the port


Could it be that officials at the Port of Baltimore have finally learned from hard experience what it takes to get this city's maritime business back on its feet? There are encouraging indications that this is happening.

Take, for instance, the return of McCrory Stores to the local port. Six years ago, the York, Pa., five-and-dime chain abandoned Baltimore for California, expressing concerns about U.S. Customs delays and chronic labor problems. It was not alone. LTC Baltimore suffered numerous body blows as its market share dwindled and shipping lines as well as old customers moved their business elsewhere.

But since Adrian Teel took over the Maryland Port Administration a year ago, a perceptible turnaround has taken place at the port. A new sense of unity and a welcome degree of aggressive marketing have started to pay off. That's why McCrory's has returned.

The five-and-dime chain received an unsolicited call from a port manager. This led to a visit to York by a sales group including Mr. Teel and top officials of the longshoremen's union and the U.S. Customs district here. They sold McCrory's on Baltimore's resurgence. The result: 2,000 extra containers a year shipped through Baltimore generating 20,000 hours of new employment for loading and trucking labor. That amounts to as many as 20 trailers a day in this peak import season for McCrory's.

Ironically, the port's first test of its new-found revival came the day of McCrory's first shipment in June. It was pouring rain. Yet longshoremen unloaded the cargo quickly. In the past, longshoremen might have refused to handle the cargo because of inclement weather. Those days seem to have disappeared.

McCrory's return is good news for the port and for the York company, which is saving $3.5 million a year by using modern facilities at the Seagirt Marine Terminal only 50 miles from its distribution center. Such success stories are bound to encourage others. Middle Eastern trade, for example, should show a big increase thanks to the decision of the National Shipping Company of Saudi Arabia to shift its North American headquarters to Baltimore from New York this fall. Customers and shipping lines are looking for the kind of customized efficiency and red-carpet service that the Teel regime is emphasizing.

After so many years of losing business to its competitors, Baltimore's port officials should be encouraged by these developments. The Port of Baltimore has a lot to offer -- if its leaders can get the message out.

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