Commercial Real Estate

Talking Points: Tay Yoshitani

By Compiled and edited by Leslie D. Helm October 21, 2009


When Tay Yoshitani took over as CEO of the Port of Seattle in March 2007, the port was plagued by charges of mismanagement and misconduct, which were emphasized in a December 2007 performance audit. Yoshitani, a graduate of West Point who spent six years as a deputy port director in Los Angeles and another six years as head of the Port of Oakland, has now restored stability to the Northwest’s largest port just in time to fend off rising competition.

On Managing the Port: There are still things we need to improve on, but I think we have it reorganized in a way that all of the stuff that came out in the performance audit can be dealt with methodically with more control and oversight. There is no excuse now for people to say “I didn’t understand that.”

On Rising Competition: Now we can get to the business at hand, which is competing and generating as much economic benefit as possible and doing it in an environmentally responsible way. The nature of competition has really changed on the West Coast. New container terminals have opened in Canada and Mexico. The [widened] Panama Canal is going to be completed in 2014 or so [giving larger ships from Asia access to the East Coast]. That’s really changed the dynamics of competition.

People are still going to import tennis shoes. But if we don’t have good, swift, safe movement of cargo through the West Coast, [the freight] is going to find another way to get [to markets]. We also need to make sure that Washington cherries, apples, hay and potatoes can be efficiently exported. We want to make sure that our stuff is as competitive as possible in the world market.

On Fast Freight: The six [container] ports on the West Coast generate something like 145,000 jobs. This is in the same order of magnitude as the three auto companies. These jobs are at risk because of changes in the competitive environment. The [transportation] infrastructure has been neglected for so many years, and it needs to be addressed. We want leadership in Congress and the [Obama] administration to work for a dedicated national freight strategy with funding to improve freight transport.

On Potential Port Consolidation: I think that there would be benefits and value in there being a Puget Sound regional port authority. I’ve seen vessel-carrying agreements and alliances on the ocean carrier side. They have found it necessary to work together to compete more effectively. There used to be dozens of stevedores at each port. Now you have just a handful in the country. Port authorities have not done that. Some believe that competition between the two ports [Seattle and Tacoma] keeps us competitive. I think we have enough competition from the north and south to keep our edge. We are working together [with the Port of Tacoma] in areas of common interest like security, infrastructure issues, environment, and we’ve done some joint marketing. Eventually, to get the full benefits, a regional authority would make sense.

On New Opportunities for the Port: We have to make investments to make things happen. The cruise business is a classic example. There was nothing there. Now it’s had a huge benefit to the region. There has got to be some opportunities where there is an intersection between green jobs, green technology and the transportation business [where we can] somehow play a role that creates jobs.

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