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Ports Of Seattle And Tacoma Form Alliance To Better Compete Against Canadian Rivals

Tender Young Pony of Insomnia
The Port of Tacoma

After years of stealing each other’s customers, the ports of Seattle and Tacoma are going to work together. They’re not merging into one entity, but they’ve formed what they’re calling a seaport alliance to jointly run the marine cargo terminals and market to customers together. 

Port of Tacoma Commission President Clare Petrich says this is not a new idea.

"Frankly, I remember when I was first elected to the port commission, which is 19 years ago, people were talking about it then," Petrich said. "Anytime cargo went from one port to the other, you’d hear somebody say, `Those two ports should really get together. This shouldn’t be happening.'"


What was talked about before is now becoming a reality as pressures on the ports grow.

Prince Rupert in British Columbia is closer to key Asian markets and offers a good rail connection to the Midwest. Shipping companies have been forming their own alliances, and ports are increasingly considering that option as well, said Asaf Ashar, a retired professor with the National Ports and Waterways Institute of the University of New Orleans.

"Alliance is the name of the game in the shipping industry," Ashar said. "About 90 percent of the shipping lines in the world are basically organizing four major alliances."

Shipping lines are also shifting to bigger vessels. That means the ports of Tacoma and Seattle need to upgrade their terminals. But port of Seattle Commission Co-President Stephanie Bowman says they want to be smart about it.


"In the past, where Tacoma would make an investment and Seattle would make an investment, without planning those strategically, then we’re overbuilding for the region and that drives the price down," Bowman said.

Bowman says with the ports working together, if a shipping company heads to Tacoma, Seattle will still benefit, and vice versa. 

The ports will adopt an interlocal agreement and then carry out due diligence to examine the business objectives and financial returns. They plan to submit a more detailed plan to the Federal Maritime Commission next March.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.