Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Oakland Port Head: Growth is the Theme in 2017

By Mark Edward Nero

Analysts are projecting three-to-four percent cargo volume growth for West Coast ports in 2017, but the Port of Oakland plans to outperform that prediction, the port’s executive director said during his annual State of the Port speech on Jan. 12.

Executive Director Chris Lytle spoke to an invited audience of about 250 people during his annual address in Jack London Square. The audience included Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf.

It was a year ago that the Port of Oakland faced the bankruptcy of its second-largest marine terminal tenant, Ports America. Now, Lytle said, Oakland faces a new year fortified by record earnings and cargo volume over the last 12 months.

“I have to tell you, this feels a whole lot better,” Lytle said. “We’re on a bit of a roll.”

He then rattled off record-breaking performances at the port during the past year, including loaded containerized cargo volume at the port, as well as an all-time high of $338 million in operating revenue for fiscal year 2016.

Lytle also said the port reported a 98 percent drop in truck diesel emissions, improving air quality in nearby neighborhoods.

The port’s progress is gratifying, given where it began 2016, Lytle said. A year ago, Ports America, Oakland’s second-largest terminal operator, declared bankruptcy and departed. The port responded by consolidating container business into four remaining terminals. The move resulted in Oakland retaining all of the bankrupt terminal’s cargo, and actually growing loaded container volume 7.6 percent. “We’re healthy, and we want to keep it that way,” Lytle said.

There’s still work to do if Oakland wants to grow its influence as a global trade gateway, he said. Operating performance improved in 2016, he said, but has to get better. He also said Oakland needs to increase its containerized import volume to match strong export growth.

“Our marine terminals are investing, modernizing, improving,” he said. “We’ve done a very good job in preparing for the future.”

Lytle said continued growth would be the port’s theme in 2017.

A groundbreaking is likely in February on a 300,000-square-foot Cool Port, a cold storage and transfer facility that could process up to 30,000 containers of beef and pork annually.