Port sales force makes pitch to attract, retain customers

The sales force has to be nimble, looking for rising products to replace declining ones. With newsprint and high-quality magazine paper slumping, the port invested in massive storage sheds — the latest a 300,000-square-foot expansion at Dundalk Marine Terminal — to attract consumer paper product companies such as Kimberly-Clark and Procter & Gamble.

"People wipe their faces with napkins, not iPads," Powers said.

Last year, Baltimore's direct-call container business inched up slightly to 7.5 percent of the East Coast market, but that remained far behind Norfolk's 24 percent. To beef up that aspect of port traffic, the trade team has set its sights on increasing business from shipping companies Maersk Line of Denmark and CMA-CGM Group of France.

One of the best ways to do that, said Joseph Greco Sr., the port's deputy marketing director, is to get buy-in from companies building huge regional distribution centers, such as IKEA, Costco and REI. The ships will go where their customers want them, and such retailers want access to the third-most prosperous market in the country and cargo-moving efficiency that is among the best in the nation.

"If we can make them see what Baltimore can do for them, they tell their carriers they want service in Baltimore," Greco said.

Often, that's enough. But officials sometimes need a deal sweetener.

When REI, the outdoor gear retailer, decided to build a 525,000-square-foot distribution center on 43 acres in Bedford, Pa., it began shopping for an East Coast port. The search included New York, Philadelphia and Savannah, Ga., said Scott Searcy, logistics technology manager.

Costs, fuel use, travel time and traffic congestion all figured into the equation, but so did carbon footprint and environmental strategy. The Bedford center supplies almost half of REI's 132 cooperative stores and direct-to-customer business.

The port's efforts to replace fuel-guzzling trucks with biodiesel vehicles, build wetlands and restore habitat, along with its recycling program, all impressed REI officials.

"We quickly realized that Baltimore was aligned with REI's values," Searcy said. "They didn't do things because it's a nice thing to do. They do it to make a difference, and they're doing it far and above what other ports are doing."