'Pulse of the Ports' forecasts a better year after a tough '09

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A truck passes shipping containers at China Shipping at the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, the busiest port complex in the US, on September near Long Beach, California.

Hundreds of people filled a hotel ballroom in Long Beach Wednesday morning to assess the "Pulse of the Ports." An economist, and representatives of container shippers, railways, longshore workers, and truckers offered their forecasts for the industry of shipping and moving goods.

The Port of Long Beach has sponsored six of these annual forecasts. Executive Director Richard Steinke said in 2010 the ports should see a small rebound, after a dismal 2008 and 2009.

"By a lot of estimates, about $20 billion was lost by the ocean carriers," said Steinke "So as you move to 2010, people are replenishing inventories. Our last three months of volumes at the Port of Long Beach have been up, so there’s a little bit of optimism," he said.

Local marine terminal operators are preparing for a jump in export activity, due to a weak American dollar.

"I think there’s a feeling that the consumer has a little bit more buying power and we should see some modest growth in 2010," Steinke said.

This year’s panel featured representatives from International container shipping line Hapag-Lloyd, the International Longshore Workers Union, Total Terminals International, BNSF Railway, The California Trucking Association, and the head of International Logistics for Home Depot.

Cal State Long Beach economist Joe Magaddino said the dramatic decline in global port traffic meant the loss of 50,000 jobs last year in Southern California’s logistics industry. This year, he said, the ports the should see more containers coming in and shipping out.

"During good economic times, we tend to take these ports for granted," said Magaddino. "But during bad times, we’ve got to recognize that there is increased competition for this business."

Other U.S. ports are trying to steer container ships away from LA, Long Beach, and San Pedro. To keep the business, Magaddino says the Southland’s ports need to invest in terminal upgrades and to increase productivity both on the doc and throughout the supply chain.

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