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Port Comeback?


A year ago, the Port of Baltimore was struggling to keep from sinking to the level of a "feeder" port. What had once been a major U.S. destination for world trade was turning into a secondary docking point. Yet even in the midst of a long recession, new officials started to turn things around.

Instead of losing $5.5 million, as the port did last year, it is profitable again. Port director Adrian Teel slashed personnel, restyled management and rejuvenated the Maryland Port Administration. He impressed the private sector and union leaders by bringing them into the room when key decisions were made. He wants to run the port as a business.

Activity started to pick up. Steamship lines and customers began to reconsider earlier moves away from Baltimore. That trend is continuing. Last month, the National Shipping Company of Saudi Arabia announced it is moving its North American headquarters to Baltimore. This should mean more Middle Eastern cargo flowing through the port: when Wilhelmsen Lines made a similar headquarters shift to Baltimore last year, it led to a 50 percent jump in its port cargo in just six months.

Equally encouraging was the full-court press put on by Mr. Teel and port leaders to entice McCrory Stores back to Baltimore. Bad experiences with Customs and labor had chased this giant convenience variety chain all the way to the West Coast. But a port sales team sold McCrory's on the port, which is close to the chain's York, Pa., headquarters and its sole distribution center. The move saves the company $3.5 million a year.

That's the kind of cooperative spirit needed to put more longshoremen back to work and pump more jobs and economic spin-offs into the local maritime market. With modern facilities, an aggressive management team and a new-found spirit of cooperation, the Port of Baltimore may be steaming toward a successful re-emergence as a key port of call in the decade of the '90s.

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