VPA takes ‘difficult assignment’ seriously

Published 9:10 pm Wednesday, October 24, 2012

By Michael Quillen

Virginia is blessed to have one of the nation’s finest natural harbors with deep-water access and 50-foot channels. The commonwealth has made significant investments over decades to take advantage of this asset, and the result is the third busiest port on the East Coast and a tremendous economic engine.

A new class of container ships is already calling on The Port of Virginia.  We expect many more to join them when the expanded Panama Canal opens, but we are mindful that ports all along the East Coast are positioning themselves to compete for these mega-ships.

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How we nurture and capitalize on our port and lucrative maritime industry in an increasingly competitive environment is a challenge for everyone associated with this asset. It is the responsibility of the Virginia Port Authority Board of Commissioners to plot that direction, which is exactly what we have been doing for more than a year.

During the last 15 months, the board has been evaluating critical areas of operations and overall port performance, including the relationship between VPA and Virginia International Terminals. We are conducting a serious evaluation that is predicated on answering a number of questions:

  • Is there a better way to leverage an unmatched set of natural and manmade assets to make this port even more competitive?
  • Are there opportunities for us to streamline our current operations and reduce costs for customers?
  • Can this port become more efficient, while maintaining priority focus on critical areas like customer service?
  • Are Virginia taxpayers getting the greatest return possible on the investments they have made in the Port of Virginia?

The board’s internal evaluation began long before the proposals submitted under the state’s Public Private Transportation Act showed up, and this internal evaluation continues in parallel with the review of the proposals submitted by APM Terminals and REEFF. As stewards of this unique asset, it is our fiduciary duty to conduct a fair hearing and evaluation to determine whether these proposals hold genuine opportunities and benefits — long- and short-term — for our port.

We will take the time necessary to conduct a thorough evaluation of these proposals, and we will continue to seek feedback from customers, the maritime community, our partners and local communities along the way.

We are grateful for the thoughtful input we have received to date, and we will take this important feedback into account as we move forward.

The board is also bringing in leading maritime experts to help us evaluate all of the options on the table, including improvements that could be made within the existing operating arrangement. We are taking a critical look at best practices around the globe and evaluating ways in which we can put those practices to work to attract more cargo to Virginia.

These past months of introspection have helped us identify areas where VPA and VIT can improve. At this point it is impossible to say exactly what these improvements will look like, but as in any business, we must continuously assess our operations and evolve if we are going to compete. Doing nothing is not an option.

We are approaching this process with an open mind and no pre-determined outcome. The board is far from any decision, and the only goal is to find what is best for this port. To that end we are listening, reading and asking questions.

We are confident that the outcome of this evaluation will be a modern management and operational structure that is as efficient and productive as possible, and one that will best position Virginia to compete.

This is not an easy process and the solution will not be perfect. What we ask is for everyone to be respectful and patient and to continue to provide input through our website and at events we will coordinate in the coming weeks and months.

Please appreciate the difficult assignment we have to complete but rest assured that this board is determined to deliver an independent decision that history will hopefully judge as both wise and in the best interests of Virginia.

Michael Quillen is chairman Virginia Port Authority’s Board of Commissioners. Visit the port authority’s website at www.portofvirginia.com.