With some of the facilities he manages visible right out the window from the Salty’s on Alki meeting room, Port of Seattle CEO Tay Yoshitani gave an upbeat speech this afternoon to the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce. It wasn’t all about finances – he touted the new Workplace Responsibility Officer whose hiring was announced yesterday, after alluding to the “dark path” the port faced amid various controversies not too long ago. As for the port’s business, he says the cargo business “turned the corner” about half a year ago, and is up more than 20 percent since then — “none of the other West Coast ports are experiencing that” — though it was down 7 percent for the entire year. His overall report card for the port’s 2009 financial picture: “We were off 4 1/2, 5 percent … about 450 million bucks.” Cuts are hard to make, he said, “because most of our expenses are relatively fixed” – but they made cuts that “amounted to 31 million dollars” and “came in with net operating income at 98% of budget.” As a result, Yoshitani said, the port’s bond rating is strong, and projects are proceeding, including the restarted construction of the $420 million rental-car facility.
Other points of pride: Delta marketing Sea-Tac Airport as a “premier gateway to Asia,” with more news to come on that front in the next six months; Carnival running Alaska cruises from Seattle starting this year – the parent company to what Yoshitani estimates is at least two-thirds of the global cruise business – and some environmental programs, including compensating vessel operators for using low-sulfur fuel while in port instead of cheaper bunker fuel, plus the “Clean Trucks” offer to buy back old trucks for up to $5,000 each; Yoshitani says they’ve bought 59 in the two months since the program began, and a dozen more are in the works. In the Q/A period, Yoshitani was asked about his opposition – which he said was “personal” – to a proposed federal reform, F4A, that would allow local governments to regulate port trucks (which The Stranger‘s been covering). He said he took a “personal position” because he believes it would be problematic for “different states to have different laws” in this area, and says the Clean Trucks program is what the Port of Seattle implemented instead, with an expansion coming, he said, to encourage retrofitting of newer trucks.
Also from Q/A – he was asked about threats to the Port’s business as posed by Panama Canal expansion – allowing much-bigger ships to continue directly to the East Coast instead of docking in the West because the canal’s not big enough – and by other ports such as Prince Rupert, B.C. He says the West Coast (U.S.) ports are banding together to do their best, collaborating with the railroads, the Longshore Workers Union and the Pacific Maritime Association, to counter such threats. However – “How do we make our piece of the pie as large as possible? That’s the subject of another discussion,” he concluded.
The West Seattle Chamber of Commerce has monthly lunch meetings and other events. Next monthly lunch will be at the Southwest Precinct. The annual Awards Breakfast is coming up April 7, 7:30 am at Salty’s. Chamber membership info – we should disclose WSB is a member – and lots more is online at wschamber.com.