Port of Baltimore - Global Trade Magazine
  April 15th, 2014 | Written by

Port of Baltimore

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James J. White, Executive Director

FTZ No. 74 • 1,200 total acres • 27 berths • 1,718,830 sq. ft. warehouse space • 50-foot channel • ICTF

Rail: CSX, NS

Highways: I-95, I-695, The Baltimore Beltway

Top export destinations: China, Netherlands, Japan

Top export commodities: Coal, Waste Paper, Automobiles

 

James J. White: The Port of Baltimore is one of the busiest ports in the U.S., and I think what people don’t know about the Port of Baltimore is where it is ranked nationally. We handle more cars than any port in the U.S. For the third straight year, we achieved that milestone. Last year, 2013, we handled nearly 750,000 cars, which again was No. 1 in the U.S. We are also the No. 1 port in the U.S. for handling roll-on/roll-off or farm and construction machinery. There are some ports that categorize roll-on/roll-off and autos as one in the same. We separate that here at the Port of Baltimore so we handle more roll-on/roll-off than any other U.S. port as well. We have the No. 1 market share for that, so that’s has been a big selling point for us. We are the closest East Coast port to the Midwest. We are farther inland than any other Eastern Seaboard port. Basically because we transit the Chesapeake Bay to reach Baltimore, and because we are farther inland, that puts us closer to obviously our Midwestern markets and a lot of our roll-on/roll-off customers—John Deere, Caterpillar, Case—they are headquartered in the Midwest, which is a nice selling point for us as well. We are also very active with bulk commodities. The public marine terminals at the Port of Baltimore handle your big ticket items, your containers, your roll-on/roll-off machinery, your cars, your giant rolls of paper, but what the private marine terminals do is they handle bulk commodities. They handle coal, which Baltimore ranks second for, exported coal in the U.S. They handle sugar, where Baltimore ranks first for imported sugar. They handle gypsum. They handle aluminum. So, those bulk commodities are a big part of the Port of Baltimore and the total tonnage here.

Global Trade: If I were an exporter around the Midwest and I am reading this, I want to ask what infrastructure the Port of Baltimore has that makes it so you can handle all those things?

James J. White: Well, I think a lot of it depends on the cargo. I guess first with cars, we have four on-dock auto processors, which is a very high number if you were to talk to other ports that handle cars, number one. Having four processors right on dock, right at the port, to handle those cars as they either come off or go on ships is a pretty neat thing. We also have a state-of-the-art unique quality program, and that quality program exists for both our roll-on/roll-off equipment and our cars. That quality program here at the port is called the QCHAT program which stands for quality, cargo, handling, action team, and basically that is a program that includes all of your key players in the supply chain. That is obviously your labor, your manufacturer, your processor, port officials and those key parties get together every month and they go over the previous month’s performance, and we are able to directly pinpoint any problem areas, any areas that we need to shore up, that we were possibly a little bit short in the previous month, right then and there with all the key players. That has been a real bonus for us, and obviously in terms of promoting ourselves as the No. 1 auto port and the No. 1 roll-on/roll-off port in the U.S. We also have on the roll-on/roll-off side, we have a RO/RO Rodeo (roll-on/roll-off rodeo), which is held every spring. As far as we know that is unique to the Port of Baltimore as well. That is a two-day event where newly hired longshore workers are able to basically take test drives, if you will, on the roll-on/roll-off equipment that they will be handling here at the port to obviously take them off ships or drive them onto ships. So it’s basically a training exercise, two days of training exercises, that familiarize longshore workers with the equipment they are going to operate.

Global Trade: I have never heard of a RO/RO Rodeo before.

James J. White: It’s very cool. It’s actually, you know, in my office here in the communications office, we promote it locally. We get a really good media response to it, and that has helped us out, obviously, with our reputation as a RO/RO port and it’s been a real success. Let me mention containers for sure. I mean, that’s a huge part of our business here and actually just last year, it was a landmark year for us in our container business because last year the port opened, well I shouldn’t say opened, but a new 50-foot deep container berth and four Super-Post Panamax, is what the term is used in the maritime industry, but they are super-sized cranes, four suppressed cranes, basically state-of-the-art, the largest that are made today. Those four cranes and that new berth became operational at the Port of Baltimore last year.

Global Trade: It seems like you are ahead of everybody really.

James J. White: Baltimore is only one of two East Coast ports that can handle the supersize ships of today, Virginia being the other port on the East Coast. If you go up and down, you probably know this being in the industry, you’ve got ports up and down the East Coast that have their own hurdles when it comes to getting ready for the big ships. Some don’t have a deep enough channel. Others may have, as New York has, a beach clearance issue. So, everyone has sort of their own hurdle they need to overcome and here in Baltimore we are in a pretty competitive place. We have had a 50-foot-deep channel for more than 20 years and last year we had two other key components of that, which is the 50-foot-deep berth and the Super-Post Panamax crane that become operational last year, so we are really excited about the future of our container business obviously. All the berth and the cranes were all made possible through a unique public/private partnership with a company called Ports America Chesapeake. Simply put, the state of Maryland did not have the funding that was obviously needed to deepen the berth and purchase the cranes. So our governor prompted us to look at private industry for a solution. We were able to work with Ports America Chesapeake on this special P3 arrangement and Ports America Chesapeake paid for the deepening of the berth, they bought the cranes and it’s been a very good partnership. We are very excited about the future of container shipping here in Baltimore. Timing is everything and it worked out well for us. We actually engaged in conversations with private interests in 2008, right as the economy was beginning to go down, which obviously was not the greatest timing, but in some ways it was the perfect timing for us, and as it turned out maybe it was. We were able to come to an agreement with Ports America Chesapeake in late 2009 and the 50-year agreement took hold in 2010. It’s not a situation where we basically turn keys over to our container terminal, this is just for the container itself, it’s not for the port in general. This P3 is just for the primary container terminal at the Port of Baltimore. We work in concert very closely with Ports America Chesapeake to market our container terminal here. Our sales team at the port administration regularly meets with and travels with and gives presentations with Ports America on the container business here at this port, so it’s really been a very good partnership, a productive partnership and again it’s put us in a really good spot.

Global Trade: It sounds to me as though by 2017-18, a lot of those ports will be catching up that are on the East Coast. Is there a strategy in place to grab as much of that business as you can and try to hold on to it?

James J. White: Well, obviously right now, as we talk today, we do have a leg up in regards to preparations and being ready today to handle the big ships, so obviously our focus right now is to get out in front and obviously recruit as much new business as possible on the container side so that those companies can see the advantages of using this port. Again, we are the closest port to the Midwest. Our local consumer market here is the third-largest in the U.S. The Baltimore/Washington, D.C. market is the third-largest in the U.S. We’ve got 14 million people between south of Philadelphia, into Delaware, through Baltimore and down into D.C. and then into northern Virginia, so you’ve got a huge consumer base here and you’ve also got one of the wealthiest consumer bases as well. So it’s a very lucrative market. It’s a large market and, again, what we’re focused on now is recruiting new business, getting them in, showing them what Baltimore can do for them and how they can benefit.