Baltimore's latest port director, Tay Yoshitani, comes to the job with sterling credentials. He also takes over a local port that is in the midst of a thriving recovery. His task will be to turn Baltimore's current maritime upswing into a permanent condition, one likely to be fueled by booming trade from China and Southeast Asia.
It is no coincidence Mr. Yoshitani boasts strong connections with steamship lines from the Far East. His contacts in the international maritime industry and his six-year stint as the No. 2 executive at the Port of Los Angeles -- where trade with the Far East is pivotal -- were major reasons why a 10-member search committee made him their unanimous recommendation.
The new director takes over a port badly in need of long-term stability. He is the sixth director in just 10 years. This constant pTC turmoil has hurt Baltimore in the hotly competitive cargo-trade industry. The jockeying is especially cut-throat along the Eastern Seaboard, where consolidation within the shipping industry and the dwindling number of ports of call per ship make it imperative that new markets be exploited. Two prime targets: Latin America and the Far East.
For the past two years, Baltimore has experienced a rebound from a decade of declining cargo. In 1994, cargo traveling through the port rose 17 percent. The year's biggest event was the arrival of China Ocean Shipping Co. (Cosco), the government-owned behemoth that gave Baltimore its first direct link to China and the Far East. Within months of arriving, Cosco started weekly service from Baltimore, a sure sign of pent-up demand.
As the markets of China and Southeast Asia open up an develop, Baltimore could thrive. The latest trend in shipping is to route goods from southern Asia by way of the Suez Canal rather than via the Pacific to a West Coast port. That should benefit Baltimore, especially if Mr. Yoshitani can persuade steamship lines that his port -- with its modern facilities, direct rail and truck connections and ample cargo space -- is the most desirable one on the East Coast.