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The port goes west


To get the type of executive maritime director for the Port of Baltimore they were looking for, state officials took Horace Greeley's famous advice and went west -- as far as they could go on the continent -- to get their man.

The goal of the Maryland Port Commission and a 10-member search committee was to find someone who met their criteria (a strong manager, good rapport with unions and proven skills in growing markets) and Gov. Parris Glendening's sole requirement (a minority or a woman).

Their unanimous choice: Tay Yoshitani, 48, the deputy executive director for maritime operations at the giant Port of Los Angeles. If the new director lives up to his advance billing, Baltimore's port may be on the threshold of good times ahead.

Unlike Los Angeles, which has no trouble drawing in ever-more cargo from the Far East, Baltimore has had a devil of a time keeping pace with fierce competition from other East Coast ports for a dwindling number of calls from cargo ships. Mr. Yoshitani's biggest challenge will be to use his excellent contacts in the Far East to Baltimore's advantage.

The Far East, along with Latin America, could hold Baltimore's future. Countries in Asia and Sotheast Asia represent the fastest-growing component of the international trade market. China, that slowly awakening giant, has enormous potential, especially now that government-owned China Ocean Shipping Co. (Cosco) services Baltimore on a weekly basis. The latest maritime trend -- shipping goods from southern Asia to the East Coast by way of the Suez Canal -- favors Baltimore.

Mr. Yoshitani's new home offers some solid advantages for international shippers. There's plenty of space available, facilities are among the most modern around, there's direct rail and truck links from the docks and cooperative labor unions are finally putting to rest Baltimore's former reputation as a troubled port.

What has been missing has been a sustained marketing drive spearheaded by someone with high-level connections in key world markets. That will be Mr. Yoshitani's job. He comes to the port at a good time. Business is rebounding smartly after the bleak recession years. In 1994, cargo passing through the port grew by 17 percent.

The port is a vital element in Baltimore's -- and Maryland's -- economy. A thriving port means more jobs along the docks and inland, too. This is one economic engine that needs to be fine-tuned till it purrs. Much is riding on Mr. Yoshitani's success.

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