An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Kristina Shevory’s August 23rd article in The New York Times provides some food for thought. Let’s take a good look at it.

Kristina began by noting the 10-day shutdown of the West Coast ports four years ago, and the congestion and labor shortages which followed, forcing shipping companies and big retailers to consider alternate ports to offload their merchandise.

Kristina began with a statement by a well-known international commercial real estate developer, Mr. Hamid R. Moghadam, chairman and chief executive of AMB, a publicly traded REIT specializing in developing industrial properties in and around airports and seaports: “The problems in L.A. made it pretty clear to us that our customers wanted an alternative,” he said.

According to Ms. Shevory, shipping companies and the retailers who rely on them are taking another look at Washington State because of the pressure of our booming trade with Asia, and the crush of container traffic since 2003 has turned the ports in the Puget Sound area into a national entry for cargo.

Some cities near the port in Tacoma, however, are already balking at the explosive growth. Large retailers like Pier 1 imports, Target and home depot have erected large distribution warehouses in the area, and smaller cities, eager for the infusion of cash, eagerly welcomed them. After an initial windfall of development fees there was little long-term economic advantage, however. Few new jobs have been generated, little property tax has been realized and large numbers of trucks which contribute to traffic congestion and wear down local roads have caused Tacoma’s neighboring cities of Sumner, Auburn and Lacey to limit the size of new distribution centers or impose moratoriums on their construction.

“What is important is jobs, and these don’t generate a lot of them,” said Jerry Litt, Lacey’s director of community development. “It’s less than one employee per 1,000 square feet.”

“We would be in serious financial problems if we allowed more large distribution warehouses,” said Paul Rogerson, Sumner’s director of community development.

“People want to be closer, but there’s no land,” said Lane Bockman, a senior vice president with CB Richard Ellis in Bellevue, Wash. This has led to bidding wars and price inflation and many companies are pushing south of the Kent Valley and Tacoma to find land. Sounds good, so far. Now maybe they’ll put pressure on the executive director at the Port of Grays Harbor, a port ideally positioned to provide the relief developers like AMB Properties and CB Richard Ellis are seeking.

Our November 9th, 2004 commentary, “How do you spell ‘Relief'”, touted the many advantages offered by the Port of Grays Harbor, and we suggested its use as a container handling facility. Up to now the idea has been stonewalled, but it now looks as though it’s an idea whose time has come.