Doubling Down

There’s a lot of highly negative press right now about how useless government is, and how broken everything is, so it’s refreshing and nice to see how one city and small port decided to take their future into their own hands. Just this week, after a difficult yet encouraging season trying a brand new direct shipping service between Cleveland and Antwerp, the Port and its Dutch partner decided to add a second ship for next year. Not only that, it seems this highly risky and daring venture has the full support of the local community. We could all learn something, here, I think. Check out this editorial from the Cleveland Plain Dealer September 24 2014:

Port of Cleveland, Dutch partner expand port’s smart trans-Atlantic gamble: editorial

“Dead in the water” seemed an appropriate descriptor for the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority when Adam Wasserman was at its helm between 2007 and 2009.

The taxpayer-floated agency was adrift in a Sargasso Sea of pie-in-the-sky strategies – the most infamous of which was Wasserman’s $500 million plan to relocate the port from its current site to a yet-to-be-created landfill north of East 55th Street.

What a difference five years and new leadership make.

Today, among other initiatives, the port is full steam ahead on a welcome and innovative venture aimed at making Cleveland a global cargo hub.

The Cleveland-Europe Express, the only direct shipping service between the Great Lakes and Europe, weighed anchor last spring.

The port inked a two-year deal with the Spliethoff Group, the largest shipowner in the Netherlands, to charter a vessel for monthly cargo runs across the pond. It’s already helped diversify cargo through the Cleveland port and helped increase cargo runs through the St. Lawrence Seaway.

“The status quo was not acceptable to me or the board,” said port President Will Friedman, who came on board in 2010. “We want to become a real Midwestern hub for companies trading internationally.”

The venture remains a gamble — the Cleveland-Europe Express has lost nearly $3 million since its launch in April, more than five times what had been projected.

But instead of shelving the idea before it can be fully tested, the port’s Dutch partner decided to put some of its own skin into the game and add a second ship to the trans-Atlantic service.

“We like it. More important, our customers like it,” Torin Swartout, a Spliethoff vice president, told Plain Dealer business reporter Robert L. Smith.

The greater frequency of voyages makes the port initiative competitive with East Coast ports, Swartout said. “We’re doubling the frequency, but we expect to more than double the cargo we ship.”

Proponents note the service offers a quick, cost-effective – and greener – alternative for businesses to transport goods through the Saint Lawrence Seaway to Europe rather than moving them by rail to East Coast ports and then across the Atlantic Ocean.

Startup hasn’t been cheap. The port ponied up $550,000 a month, plus fuel costs, to charter the Fortunagracht.

Friedman and his crew are taking the port into uncharted waters.

And that may be exactly where the future is.

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