Six ports and two railroads went to China to persuade them to come back to the West Coast. "We are the preferred gateway for Asia cargo to and from the Midwest and cities further east.” "We are the best way to move trade between the U.S. and Asia,” were the sort of comments the port executives uttered after the visit. Much play was also made of the rail connections, on-dock rail and number of terminals.
During the same week, more depressing figures were released about the drop in traffic to the West coast. Imports fell 14 percent at the five biggest West Coast ports to 852,000 containers and exports were down 2 percent to 436,000 containers.
Across the country, box traffic at Wilmington in North Carolina was up 28 percent in the first quarter of the year. .
It is surely no coincidence that Wilmington is enjoying good fortune just when it has broken the record for container moves – 47 an hour while unloading an Independent Container Line ship. The announcement of this achievement, specific mention was made of the contributions that Ports Authority employees, SSA Marine and Independent Container Line as well as the ILA (the East Coast equivalent of the ILWU, which has an iron hand from San Diego to Seattle). To many people, the inference was clear – some of those involved were non-union.
Which is being taken as a commendable sense of responsibility by all parties, and true traditional American spirit of getting the job done as efficiently as possible.
Yet, on the West Coast, industry insiders lament that little of this spirit is being shown. The common theme from the ports on their PR trip seems to have been that the traffic has a duty to come back to them. They were sub-consciously voicing bewilderment at importers, exporters and the carriers for daring to go elsewhere.
Naturally enough, the ports also harped on their environmental leadership and strengths. In fact, it was almost as if customers are sinning by avoiding them.
The response from China is not known. But, it would be little short of jaw dropping if questions about container moves were not asked, which probably led to a shuffling of feet and general unwillingness to go into the subject.
Yet, one company continues to try to do something about it. SSA Containers is gung-ho about the all-electric container bridge at Long Beach, which would rack up container moves to between 40 and 50 an hour.
A conclusion can be drawn from this thread. The ports could cancel promotional trips and instead pour their collective willpower into backing people such as SSA. As one exasperated critic of the West Coast puts it: "Increase the efficiency at the ports and they will come of their own accord. There will be no need to beg."