Photos by Keeley Smith.
Bigger, bolder, better: that was the theme Port of Long Beach CEO Jon Slangerup repeated throughout his optimistic annual State of the Port address at the Long Beach Convention Center this morning. Other areas of focus centered on how far the port has come, in relation to the slowdown that made headlines nationwide this time last year.
As he took the stage with modern techno and booms playing in the background, Slangerup’s cheery demeanor painted a rosy future for one of Long Beach’s main economic engines.
“Last January, we found ourselves in an epic struggle with severe congestion and gridlock,” said Slangerup to a packed crowd. He called the ensuing events a “painful and public meltdown” of the port’s marine supply chain, with a miraculous and quick recovery.
“All of you—and countless others not in the room—made this turnaround possible through incredibly hard work and new approaches to communicating and collaborating, along with innovative solutions and a fierce determination to regain our momentum and rebuild the trust of our customers and stakeholders.”
While the media “was writing obituaries” for the port as a result of the congestion caused by contentious contract negotiations between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), Slangerup said the eventual agreement, reached in February, made a rapid recovery possible.
The agreement, coupled with months of work with chassis companies and a new endeavor to streamline the supply chain, “Supply Chain Optimization” (SEO) sped up the port’s recovery. In fact, it took just six weeks for the port to resume normal cargo traffic operations, after weeks of backlog, according to Slangerup.
By July, the port was pulling in record cargo numbers, eventually leading to the busiest year for the port since 2007, and just the third time the port has logged over 7 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in the port’s history.
Slangerup also pointed to the port’s unique positioning as the gateway to Asian exports and imports, reducing travel time (without ships having to go through the Panama Canal and Suez Canal in Egypt) and expenses in comparison to East Coast ports.
“In my view, so long as we protect and enhance our value proposition, we have little to fear from other ports…or the Panama Canal stealing our cargo and the jobs that come with it,” said Slangerup.
Other highlights for the year included electing an all-female leadership board at the port’s Harbor Board of Commissioners, continued focus on the SEO practices and the facilitation of nearly 50 standing-room-only meetings and conference calls with stakeholders.
But what’s next? Slangerup promised a continued commitment to environmental sustainability, highlighted the largest container vessel’s visit to the port—the Benjamin Franklin, coming in at 18,000 TEUs—and looking to the past for inspiration.
“Just within the past 10 years or so, the port established the landmark Green Port and Energy policies and authorized the spending of billions of dollars for advanced technologies, terminal redevelopment, expanded rail capacity, a new bridge, upgraded road infrastructure—and the list goes on,” said Slangerup.
Slangerup also cited the port’s execution of their 2016 Strategic Plan, including the $4 billion Capital Improvement Program to develop the Middle Harbor, as well as the Gerald Desmond Bridge replacement. The presentation featured a time lapse video showcasing the bridge replacement’s progress.
Perhaps most fitting was Harbor Board of Commissioners’ President Lori Anne Guzmán’s words regarding the port’s future, including the 2015 vote to build new port headquarters in downown Long Beach by 2019.
“We work hard to keep Long Beach on the forefront — from our innovative environmental programs and investment in capital improvements to our active engagement with the community and business partners,” said Guzmán. “We’re proud to be building the Port of the Future.”