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Tacoma Officials Hope to Build Port as Major Trading Hub


Competition is intense among seaports on the U.S. West Coast, where communities vie with each other to handle cargo. The small city of Tacoma, in the Western state of Washington, is becoming a major player in the shipping business, and hopes to draw some cargo from its California competitors.

The giant dual ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach dominate shipping on the West Coast. The joint facility is considered the fourth largest port in the world, when measured by traffic in shipping containers. The biggest ports by that measure are all Asian: Hong Kong, Singapore and Shanghai.

Many goods coming to the United States from Asia arrive at Los Angeles-Long Beach. Others go to Oakland or Seattle, or Vancouver to the north in Canada. Seattle's neighboring port of Tacoma is another major destination for goods mainly from Asia, and also for goods heading north to Alaska.

Tacoma officials came to Los Angeles recently on a kind of trade mission, and say for firms doing business with Asia, Tacoma may well be the place to go to process cargo. Port director Tim Farrell says Tacoma is a gateway to the interior of the United States.

"The port of Tacoma specializes in moving cargo from Asia into the Midwest of the United States and the Northeast, and we do it extremely efficiently. There's no truck transit. The cargo comes off the ship, goes onto a train and moves out," he explained.

Tacoma is practically a suburb of Seattle. It is just 50 kilometers away from the larger city. The two communities share an airport, known as Sea-Tac. The port official says Seattle and Tacoma, and the rest of Washington State, are focused on trade. By some counts, one in three jobs depend on it.

"In Washington State, we have two of the largest container ports in North America, including the port of Tacoma," he added. "We have companies like Boeing, like Starbucks, like Weyerhaeuser, like Microsoft, that are engaged in trade around the world, and so we have a very good sense in Washington State that we are international citizens."

Tacoma is an old seaport, and it is redeveloping its downtown region, refurbishing unused warehouses for an expanded branch campus of the University of Washington. The city markets itself as a livable urban center within sight of majestic Mount Rainier.

Mark Crisson, who oversees Tacoma's public utilities, says his city offers high-speed broadband connections as part of its power system, another incentive that is attractive to business.

"With spare capacity available on the system, we're able to provide a number of telecommunication services to the businesses and residents of the city of Tacoma, which include broadband capability, Internet service, and cable television service," he said.

Port director Tim Farrell says, amenities aside, Los Angeles has an advantage as a seaport. Southern California is a huge population center, and many goods that arrive there are destined to stay. But he says goods headed for other parts of the United States, from Chicago to Atlanta, could make the journey more efficiently by taking their business northward, to the port of Tacoma.