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SUPER MARIO: CORDERO HELPED SHAPE PORT OF LONG BEACH’S PIONEERING GREEN PORT POLICY YEARS BEFORE HE BECAME EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

cordero

SUPER MARIO: CORDERO HELPED SHAPE PORT OF LONG BEACH’S PIONEERING GREEN PORT POLICY YEARS BEFORE HE BECAME EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

Mario Cordero was an attorney in Long Beach, defending industries and municipalities in workers’ compensation cases when he went to lunch with a local elected official. This was in the early 2000s when environmental issues were hot topics in a city that, by population, ranks second in Los Angeles County, seventh in California and 39th in the nation.

“He asked me if I’d be interested in being appointed to the harbor commission,” recalls Cordero of his lunch partner, who was referring to the City of Long Beach’s port authority. “I said of course I would. When you are talking about the port authority, that’s the pinnacle of civic involvement.”

But Cordero could not help but wonder … why him?

“At the time, port authority appointees had backgrounds either politically or as a developer or financier or someone in that circle, or as a community or environmental advocate who is a strong fundraiser,” he says. “I didn’t come under any of those classifications. So I asked, ‘Would the mayor consider me when I don’t have the history of those people who have been propelled to the port authority before?’ He said the mayor was looking for a different mindset, someone who was more sensitive to the concerns of the community and the environmental agenda.”

Cordero accepted the appointment and was sworn onto the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners in July 2003, going on to serve as vice president and president during his eight-year stint. The Los Angeles native is now beginning what will this year be his 17th year as a maritime leader, not only locally and nationally but internationally, as he resigned from the harbor commission in 2011 to join the Federal Maritime Commission, the U.S. government agency responsible for regulating the nation’s international ocean transportation for the benefit of exporters, importers and the American consumer and fostering a fair, efficient and reliable international ocean transportation system, while protecting the public from unfair and deceptive practices.

Cordero, who became executive director of the Port of Long Beach in May 2017, now leads a Harbor Department staff of more than 500 and oversees a budget that was $982 million for the 2019 fiscal year.

The crowning jewel of his career (so far) is arguably the nationally recognized, globally influential Green Port Policy, which outlines a sustainable ethic for all port operations, mandating that trade growth run parallel with environmental stewardship. Cordero began working on the initiative in late 2004, while still on the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners. “We rolled it out,” he says, “and the rest is history.”

Cordero, who was appointed vice-chairman of the Board for the American Association of Port Authorities in October 2018, outlined his port’s strong 2019—despite a dip in exports due to the U.S.-China trade war—and the progress of sustainability efforts during his Jan. 23 State of the Port address at the Long Beach Convention Center. Last year, the Port of Long Beach moved 8.1 million shipping containers or its highest total ever. An $870 million project in the pipeline to improve the port’s rail yard will have more containers hauled by trains instead of trucks, he noted. “Rail is a big part of our green future,” Cordero told the audience. “For the American exporter, my message to you is this: Our rail will move your cargo faster and more efficiently, and we are on track to make it even better for you in the years ahead.”

He also highlighted the Clean Air Action Plan that the ports of Long Beach and neighboring Los Angeles, which together form the largest port complex in the nation, implemented in 2017. The goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050. “We all know climate change is a major global effort, and a global threat,” Cordero told the crowd. “We need to transition to sustainable low-carbon, and the Port of Long Beach will do its part. Our challenge is not just to reduce carbon emissions. It’s to eliminate them altogether. … Yes, we face great challenges, but this port of the future is meeting that challenge. With our many projects, we’re planting seeds so this region continues to thrive.”

Over the phone a week after his State of the Port address, Cordero credited his time on the Harbor Commission with helping to bring about his port’s revolutionary change. “That was the game-changer with me to be part of the port authority,” he says. “I started during a time when there was a real contentious relationship with environmental groups and neighborhood groups who questioned the impacts of having such a great port. Their primary concerns were the harmful emissions that came from those operations and congestion on the highways, streets and so forth. As a result, then-mayor Beverly O’Neill appointed me to the Harbor Commission, and one of my mandates was to bring different thinking to the commission, one that is more sensitive to the concerns of the neighborhood and communities, especially when it came to the environmental issues coming before us.”

Cordero helped usher in the Green Port Policy that the port formalized in January 2005, sealing his reputation as a leader who can bring together different stakeholders or constituencies when it came to economic and environmental sustainability. “Our motto was Grow Green,” he notes. “Back then, in 2004-’05, a lot of naysayers in the industry felt that if you try to do both, it will negatively impact business operations. Looking back, that of course, as I thought then, was not to be the case.” The League of California Cities bestowed Cordero an environmental award in 2007 (the same year the Mexican-American Bar Association named him Attorney of the Year). And still, after two decades of operating under the Green Port Policy, the Port of Long Beach ranks second in the U.S. when it comes to container moves. (The Port of Los Angeles is No. 1.) “It’s not only Grow Green, but we are also a growth leader,” Cordero says. “We eventually laid out a model for ports around the world.”

Some of those ports in the U.S. would not mind cutting into Long Beach’s trade action. “We recognize that we have to have a competitive edge in terms of competing with other gateways in the U.S. lobbying for a piece of the Asian-Transpacific cargo moves,” concedes Cordero, who during his early days in the industry became “intrigued” by “the whole issue of commerce and international trade.” He plunged into examining globalization, especially as it related to economic partnerships with Asian countries. His self-education, coupled with the port’s economic and environmental successes, led to President Barack Obama appointing Cordero to the Federal Maritime Commission, which he chaired from April 2013 to January 2017.

The FMC experience “gave me context into the high levels of Washington, D.C.,” he says. “That leadership really put the Port of Long Beach on the national front. I am very proud of that history.” It was forged by Cordero’s ability to get local residents, environmentalists, union workers, terminal operators, cargo owners, international shipping companies, transportation entities and government regulators to all buy in to the port’s vision when it came to what had previously been viewed as polar opposites: trade growth and environmental sustainability. “We had to educate the community about the importance of international trade, not only as a job producer, but every household is a beneficiary of international trade,” Cordero says. “And number two, the Port of Long Beach was serious about exploring ways we can further sustainable development.”

He points with pride to “a tremendous monetary investment” the port has made to mitigate air and water pollution. “We moved forward to introduce and put in place shore power, which is also known as cold ironing,” he says. “An investment in excess of $180 million resulted in international vessels coming to port and hooking up to the electrical infrastructure as opposed to burning bunker fuel, or what they call hoteling. The way it [previously] looked at the port was that the vessels were emitting black smoke while they were here. Not much more changed dynamically until, on the international front and the state level, the implementation of standards requiring environmentally friendly fuels and the getting away from the common use of bunker fuel, which was the worst kind to use as far as the diesel infrastructure.”

Cordero is pleased with where the port is in terms of achieving the goals of the Green Port Policy. Referring to the marketing spin that makes a supposedly green entity sound more focused on sustainability than it really is, Cordero conceded, “Many thought in the environmental community, and I don’t blame them, that we were just greenwashing here. Obviously, we did more than greenwashing. … Mitigating harmful emissions—we’ve done that. In 10 years we have reduced particulate matter 88 percent, noxious emissions 57 percent, and we’ve reduced sock emissions at a level of 97 percent. Those are astounding numbers in terms of what we did.”

In the same breath, he acknowledges the port must do more as it tries to meet the bold goals of zero emissions in cargo handling by 2030 and zero emissions from trucks by 2035. “There are 18,300 trucks registered at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. There can be anywhere from 14 to 16 truck moves a day. Our goal is to not be satisfied in reducing emissions and diesel emissions until we get to zero, so by 2035 trucks will be running on electric batteries or fuel-cell technology.”

That is why Cordero is not ready to pop the cork on the bubbly just yet. “I am satisfied at this point in terms of what this port and this city have been able to do, but ultimately we must meet our current quest of going zero emissions,” he says. “That is something we will celebrate in the future.”

It’s all pretty heady stuff when you consider Cordero “was not even thinking about being on the Harbor Commission until I had that lunch. … I love to speak to students assessing what careers they are looking at. Number one, I tell them to give 110 percent at the job they are doing. Second, I say you never know what door is going to open.”

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PORT CITY REVIEW: THESE 20 SEAPORT COMMUNITIES HELP DRIVE THE U.S. ECONOMY

Ports are “crucial to the economy,” Texas economist Ray Perryman wrote in 2017. “Ports generate substantial business activity through their operations, but those benefits are dwarfed by the huge importance of water transportation to other industries.” In this survey of 20 U.S. port cities, we look at various engines of economic development and see how they tie into the seaport.

TAMPA, FLORIDA

Since 2009, the Tampa Bay Economic Development Council (EDC) has acted as the is the lead designated economic development agency for Hillsborough County as well as the cities of Tampa, Plant City and Temple Terrace. The EDC offers a variety of incentives (infrastructure, workforce training, targeted industry and special opportunities) and tax breaks for companies that create high-wage jobs in high-value industries. Companies can also apply for workforce training grants and tax exemption programs. In addition, the Tampa Bay EDC also aids those wishing to take advantage of real estate opportunities at Port Tampa Bay (the largest deepwater port in the state), Port Redwing and Port Ybor.

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND

The Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC) serves as the administrator of that city’s Foreign Trade Zone (FTZ). The FTZ offers duty-free treatment for companies importing and exporting goods, and it saw nearly $20 billion worth of shipments in 2017. Much of that passed through the Port of Baltimore, which is one of the 10 busiest in the nation. According to the BDC, “With merchandise such as cars, paper and steel, 2017 saw the total FTZ international revenue rise from $44 million in 2016, to more than $396 million in 2017.” The BDC also provides a number of programs for entrepreneurs, small businesses and tax credits for supermarkets willing to open or renovate in targeted areas of the city.

MATAGORDA COUNTY, TEXAS

Matagorda County’s two shallow draft ports—Port of Bay City and Port of Balacios—are part of what makes the area’s location so desirable, according to the Matagorda County Economic Development Corp. (EDC). Both ports have nearby parcels available for long-term lease and development. Those wishing to do so may qualify for a host of incentives offered by the Matagorda County EDC, including tax abatements, an industrial revenue bond program, the Texas Enterprise fund for job creation, permit assistance, special discretionary loans, sales and use tax exemptions and various other training and capital funds.

VENTURA COUNTY, CALIFORNIA

Starting in 2019, the Port of Hueneme began a partnership with the Ventura County Economic Development Collaborative (EDC), Matter Labs and Naval Base Ventura County known as MAST (Maritime Advanced Systems & Technology). MAST is a laboratory at the port to incubate new technology and attract venture capital. “By leveraging the unique geographic, operational and environmental assets located at the Port of Hueneme, MAST invites entrepreneurs with an optimized solution a surrounding for sustained research, experimentation and test programs,” port officials say. This fits in perfectly with the EDC’s mission of promoting job growth through start-up assistance, special financing packages and workforce training programs.

SAVANNAH, GEORGIA

The Savannah Economic Development Authority (SEDA) provides a dizzying array of tax incentives to companies wishing to locate or expand in Savannah. The organization’s Business Retention Action Team (BRAT) also offers workforce training, assistance on decreasing energy use, logistics and engineering information and even free pre-OSHA audits. Because the need for warehousing space to accommodate the ever-growing Port of Savannah was consuming so much land, in 2019 SEDA developed the 719-acre Savannah Manufacturing Center. To attract tech firms, the project includes a host of county and city tax exemptions, according to an Oct. 23, 2019, story in Worth.

MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE

Created in 2011, the Economic and Development Growth Engine (EDGE) for Memphis and Shelby County coordinates public resources and incentives for economic growth in those municipalities. EDGE manages Foreign Trade Zone 77, provides special business loans and tax incentives and also manages the Memphis Port Commission, which oversees the Port of Memphis. In November 2017, EDGE approved a $327,500 contract to develop a master plan for the port. Produced nearly a year later, that plan calls far a variety of infrastructure upgrades to ensure that the port will still be in use 20 to 50 years from now.

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA

The Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance has long sought to strengthen and diversify that city’s economy through services and incentives aimed at helping companies expand or relocate there. The organization helps with business location, market research and workforce training. GFLA also supports various international trade initiatives, in hopes of increasing imports and exports in Fort Lauderdale. Port Everglades, which plays a key role in global trade initiatives and is the preeminent seaport in Florida in terms of revenue, was responsible for $34 billion in economic activity in 2018, according to the port authority.

NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK

“We are New Yorkers, working for New Yorkers,” say the officials who run the New York City Economic Development Corp. (NYCEDC). The NYCEDC prides itself on helping to grow and help companies become more sustainable. In 2015, the NYCEDC took a big step in doing this by signing a lease agreement with the City of New York to develop the old South Brooklyn Marine Terminal at Port NYC. Three years later, in May 2018, NYCEDC announced that their new Sustainable South Brooklyn Marine Terminal would serve as a new and major shipping hub that would create 250 near-term jobs, expand future growth and job creation and eliminate the need for 11,000 truck trips every year.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA

The Port of Los Angeles is the busiest seaport in the western hemisphere. As such, the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. (LAEDC) provides a number of services to ensure that the port—and those companies and workers who rely on it—continues to grow. It publishes a variety of reports each year on the city’s international trade outlook, assists companies in finding international trade opportunities, brings international investment into LA through its World Trade Center Los Angeles affiliate and helps ensure low-interest financing is available for projects.

WILMINGTON, NORTH CAROLINA

Since 1956, Wilmington Business Development (WBD) has worked to bring more companies to the region. It does this through market research, partnership development and technical assistance. There’s no better example of this than WBD’s recent partnership with Chesterfield LLC and the Port of Wilmington to construct a 425,000-square-foot, build-to-suit facility at the port, which will handle both imports and exports. As a marketing partner in the venture, WBD will promote the project and attract tenants.

PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND

Through a partnership with the U.S. Department of Commerce and the John H. Chafee Center for International Business, the Rhode Island Commerce Corp. (RICC) assists Providence companies in entering export markets. This allows companies to join trade missions, learn how to market themselves internationally and get specialized training. Though the Port of Providence (ProvPort) is relatively small, it has been a commercial seaport since the 1600s, which is why RICC partnered with the port in 2017 to implement a bond measure that would expand the port’s size and influence.

MOBILE, ALABAMA

For the past three decades, the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama (EDPA) has worked to help companies grow in the state, and compete throughout the world. It offers assistance for start-ups on obtaining special credits, help with the various free trade zones around the state and information on the AlabamaSAVES loan program to make it easy to get energy efficient. EDPA also provides help for those companies wishing to compete globally—which is made vastly easier by the Port of Mobile, which is responsible for more than 134,000 jobs and more than $22 billion in economic impact.

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA

The Port of New Orleans plays an outsized role in that region’s economic growth. It supports nearly 120,000 jobs and almost $30 billion in revenue, according to an April 15, 2019, article in Biz New Orleans. Greater New Orleans, Inc. (GNO), which has long assisted companies in the region that wish to grow or compete internationally, recognizes that New Orleans’ growth simply couldn’t happen without the port. “In recent years, the Port of New Orleans has emerged as not only a record-breaking cargo and cruise facility, but remains an economic development powerhouse,” said GNO President Michael Hecht in the Biz New Orleans article. “Thanks to the Port’s leadership and partnership, New Orleans is well on its way to reclaiming its economic and maritime preeminence.”

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA

The East Bay Economic Development Alliance (EDA) has been assisting the Port of Oakland (which today handles 99 percent of the containerized goods that move through Northern California) to grow for the past three decades. The EDA supported the port’s need to dredge the harbor in 1991 and again in 2009, meeting with conservationists, shipping interests and others to build a consensus. In 2003, the EDA also met with stakeholders to resolve the transportation impacts created by the port’s growth. The result was a recommendation to move the transportation and distribution facilities that support the port.

NORFOLK, VIRGINIA

The Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance (EDA) has long assisted both domestic and international firms wishing to invest in the Norfolk area. The EDA provides all manner of services and assistance in finding a location, banking, obtaining permits, staffing and auditing. The EDA can also provide help for those companies wishing to take advantage of the three lucrative tax incentives offered by the State of Virginia to firms that use the Port of Norfolk: the Port Volume Increase Tax Credit, Barge and Rail Use Tax Credit and International Trade Facility Tax Credit.

BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS

Since 1992, companies wishing to locate or expand in Brownsville have been able to call upon the services of the Brownsville Economic Development Corp. (BEDC). The BEDC offers qualifying firms job creation incentives that range from $2,000 to $10,000 per each job created. Bringing together business leaders, location consulting and permit assistance are some of the other services the BEDC offers to companies in Brownsville. Critical to the city is the Port of Brownsville, the only deepwater port on the U.S./Mexico border, which the port authority said was responsible for $3 billion in economic activity in 2018.

MIAMI, FLORIDA

The Economic Development Council (EDC) of South Miami-Dade formed in 1993, following the destruction wrought by Hurricane Andrew. In addition to assisting companies in moving to Miami or expanding their current location, the EDC provides firms with market information as well as assistance in qualifying for tax incentives. Another key role of the EDC is focusing on “the betterment of any deficiency in the regional infrastructure which is a hindrance to economic vitality.” PortMiami, one of the most important elements in the Miami economy, impacts more than 334,000 jobs and supports about $43 billion in overall economic activity.

CLEVELAND, OHIO

Job creation in Northeast Ohio has been at the forefront of the Greater Cleveland Partnership (GCP) since its founding in 2004. The organization advocates for Cleveland businesses, while also providing them with vital assistance in getting access to capital, securing tax incentives and finding and retaining staff. In 2018, the GCP helped local companies create nearly 2,000 jobs, while retaining more than 12,000. The Port of Cleveland, which is the hub of about $3.5 billion in economic activity for the region, supports nearly 20,000 jobs.

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA

The Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. (PIDC) has leveraged more than $25 billion in investment and helped create hundreds of thousands of jobs since its founding in 1958. It manages commercial and industrial real estate, delivers grant funding for development projects, provides resources for companies located in underserved, low-income parts of the city and sponsors investment opportunities in projects that qualify for the U.S. Immigration Investor Program. PhilaPort has been central to the growth of Philadelphia, returning more than $70 million in revenue to the city and providing more than 10,000 jobs.

ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI

It’s remarkable just how much the STL Partnership accomplishes in the name of economic development. The organization manages opportunity zones to encourage urban investment, provides workforce development, helps companies engage on the global market, provides tax incentives and loan assistance, runs innovation centers for startups and assists companies with site selection. The STL Partnership and the St. Louis County Port Authority have been partners since the Mississippi River flood of 1993. Then, they joined to develop the Lemay Comprehensive Plan, which helped redevelop the old National Lead site and establish a community reinvestment fund.

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PORT OF VIRGINIA PUT SUFFOLK ON THE COFFEE MAP

Coffee’s contribution is not peanuts

Established in 1742, the little town of Suffolk, Virginia served as a port along the Nansemond River in Virginia’s Tidewater region, eventually becoming a hub for railroad transportation. An Italian immigrant put Suffolk on the food production map, establishing the Planters Nut and Chocolate Company in 1912. A Peanut Queen is still crowned at the annual peanut festival.

These days, Suffolk has a newer claim to fame in the food industry. Home to several large coffee roasters including Massimo, Zanetti USA, Keurig Green Mountain, J.M. Smucker — and soon — Peets Coffee, Suffolk has become the most caffeinated city east of the Mississippi. The coffee industry has built out a cluster of related activities that generate significant employment and revenue for the people of Suffolk.

A deep commitment to Virginia coffee

Until the 1960s New York City was the undisputed home to the coffee industry. Since then, coffee has been imported through a variety of ports on the East Coast and elsewhere throughout the country, including the ports of New Orleans, Houston, Los Angeles and, of course, Seattle which is the home of Starbucks.

How did Suffolk become a coffee epicenter for the East Coast? Location and maritime advantage. Suffolk is 30 miles west of the Port of Virginia, which was the first to accept the much larger neo-Panamax ships transiting the expanded Panama Canal beginning in 2016. Port of Virginia has embarked on a $700 million expansion project of its own. By 2025, it will have a 55-foot channel depth, making it the deepest port on the East Coast, and will be able to handle an additional one million cargo containers at two of its terminals.

Centrally located on the eastern seaboard, Port of Virginia is capable of serving the major population centers east of the Mississippi. The ports of Baltimore, Savannah, Charleston and Virginia together now account for about one-third of all the green (unroasted) coffee imported into the United States. Suffolk is conveniently located to all of them.

Roasting the competition

Suffolk’s rise to roasting prominence started with one company – Hills Bros, now Massimo Zanetti. Once Hill Bros moved to Suffolk from New Jersey, others began to see its merits as an East Coast base. Building on the foundation of early investment by Lipton, which built its first plant there in 1955, the region is now the third-largest coffee and tea cluster in the country.

The City of Suffolk, together with the Virginia Economic Development Program, welcomed the industry with large industrial sites close to Port of Virginia and collaborated to have three coffee warehouse companies licensed by the International Coffee Exchange (ICE). Only beans stored under very particular, climate-controlled conditions can be certified for trading on ICE’s commodities exchange.

Bean roasting connoisseur allowing customer to smell the aroma from the coffee beans

To ensure the people of Suffolk could move into value-added jobs in the coffee industry, local educational institutions, such as Paul D. Cook Community College in Suffolk, developed training programs tailored to the industry’s needs offering new credentials such as an Industrial Technology and Electronic Controls certification.

The companies offer interesting career paths. “Cuppers” are specialized technicians who test beans for quality and taste the beans after roasting, grading their suitability and characteristics for blending. Nora Johnson came to Suffolk to work as an intern with Massimo Zanetti in 2016 as a Florida Gulf Coast University student. Upon graduating, she joined Massimo Zanetti full-time as a Commodities Analyst, analyzing customer positions on the coffee futures market and has become involved in the company’s sustainability and responsible sourcing initiatives.

Toast the roast

The coffee industry contributes approximately 10 percent of Suffolk’s gross regional product directly, and another 13 percent through indirect and induced effects. The Port of Virginia started a new annual celebration, “Coffee Day,” so everyone can toast the roast and celebrate the opportunities trade brings to the region.

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Evelyn Suarez

Evelyn Suarez is a legal expert and consultant specializing in customs compliance and anti-corruption. Ms. Suarez serves on the Virginia Maritime Association Board, and advisory boards to the George Washington University Center for International Business Education & Research and Georgetown University Law Center International Trade Update.

This article originally appeared on TradeVistas.org. Republished with permission.