Business
5:21 pm
Thu August 22, 2013

Ports of Seattle and Tacoma Invest for Growth—But Will it Come?

Container volume is down more than 8 percent at the ports of Seattle and Tacoma in July, most likely a reflection of the weak economy. But the ports also face longer-term challenges.

Competition from Canadian ports is fierce. Then there’s the widening of the Panama Canal, set to be done in 2015, which some people say could divert ships away from the Pacific Northwest. And then there’s the Chinese economy to think about.

Michael Parks is a former financial editor for the Seattle Times. He now blogs about the Pacific Northwest economy.

"Labor costs are going up in China," he said. "And as a result of that, manufacturers in both the United States and Europe are pulling back some of the activity they sent away to Asia." 

Parks says that spells less demand for container shipping. So he questions why the ports are spending tax dollars to accommodate big increases down the line.

Linda Styrk with the Port of Seattle says some of the growth will come from a trend toward larger ships. And, she says, the port has already spent a billion dollars in upgrades, and needs to protect that investment.

"So we want to steward that for the taxpayer and make sure we are doing everything we can to attract growth," Styrk said. 

A spokeswoman for the Port of Tacoma says the port needs to keep investing to keep their facilities competitive and protect the  jobs in the Puget Sound region that depend on trade.