Gazing out across Puget Sound’s glassy surface from the ornate pagoda at Chinese Reconciliation Park or the waterfront shops and restaurants at Point Ruston, it is hard to miss the mammoth, cargo-laden container ships as they glide into our midst, bound for the Port of Tacoma.
And yet the parade of ships calling on the Port of Tacoma is an activity that has occurred for a century, when the Port of Tacoma was officially voted into existence by Pierce County residents on Nov. 5, 1918.
Today, the Port encompasses about 2,700 acres and serves as one of the key gateways for trade in the Pacific Northwest while concurrently acting as a catalyst for more than 29,000 industrial and manufacturing jobs in our region.
The Port of Tacoma’s footprint isn’t the only significant thing to change over the past 100 years. In 2015, the Port began working in tandem with the Port of Seattle to form the Northwest Seaport Alliance, which generates $4.3 billion annually in local economic impact.
In 2015, the two separate but equal ports helped to export 162,000 20-foot equivalent units (equal to a standard 20-foot container) of animal feed, 85,000 TEUs of wood pulp, and 49,000 TEUs of vegetables to top international trading partners in China/Hong Kong, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, and more.
Such a sizable impact to our region and its economy, the staff at the corporate office knew it couldn’t let the organization’s centennial anniversary pass unmarked. But just how big of a deal should be made of this occasion?
“I did a fair amount of research, looking at not only what other ports do, but looking at everyone from Fenway Park to Oreo, public and private sector companies (and asking myself), ‘How do people celebrate a centennial milestone?’ and it’s kind of all over the map,” said Rod Koon, the Port’s senior manager of communications.
In the end Koon, Port commissioners, and key staff decided to start with the Port’s November anniversary and work backward 100 days. Thus, the “100 years, 100 days” centennial celebration began in late July, with free Port boat tours during the Tacoma Maritime Fest.
Koon, a 35-year Port of Tacoma veteran, worked on the Port’s 75th anniversary campaign in 1993. But he said his previous experience wasn’t easy to draw on because much had changed over the past 25 years.
“That was before the internet, social media, and other changes had taken effect in terms of communications,” Koon said with a chuckle.
To better spread the word, the Port hired Tacoma-based JayRay Public Relations, and the team quickly settled on a theme for the celebration: Port Ties Run Deep.
“We wanted to really drill down on that connection piece and just how everyone in this community, in this region, and in the world are connected through trade,” said JayRay advisor Katie Whittier, who worked closely with the Port on the campaign.
Whittier and JayRay also helped develop coasters for local restaurants, informational displays to be featured at Foss Waterway Seaport, a series of bus ads, and even a bus wrap that transformed one Pierce County Transit bus into a virtual container ship as part of a campaign they dubbed “ship out of water.”
Arguably, the campaign’s highlight was the 20-foot-long Centennial Container, which was showcased at local events like Maritime Fest and the Washington State Fair in Puyallup.
“The container is really cool,” Whittier said. “It wasn’t part of the initial plan, but commissioner Clare Petrich, it was her idea. (The Port) had a 20-foot container they would take around to schools, and it was educational … (We thought), ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we got that back out, dusted it off, and used it again?’”
A wrap was created by Print NW and installed over the container’s riveted exterior metal frame. Inside, visitors explored the container and viewed many informational displays to learn about such topics as the journey of an apple as it travels from Washington branches to Asian storefronts through the Port.
There’s still time to celebrate this centennial anniversary. Here are a few suggestions:
Explore the Port Up Close
Monthly tours offer an intimate look at the Port’s facilities and the day-to-day hustle and bustle of shipping activities, with narrated talks about Port history and operations. Tours are set for Nov. 5 and Dec. 1. Call (253) 383-9463 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve your spot.
Learn About the Port at Foss Waterway Seaport
A large 12-panel display illustrates major milestones of the Port’s development and key local events ranging from the collapse of the Narrows Bridge to JFK’s visit to Cheney Stadium.
Journey Inside a Shipping Container
Keep an eye peeled for the Port’s 20-foot Centennial Container at local events, and learn how tall the Port’s new cranes are in relation to other notable landmarks and at least one fictional creature.
Dig into History with an Online Story Map
The Port’s new story map lets you move through some of the highlights of the Port and our region dating back to the late 1800s. The site incorporates maps, video clips, historical photos, and facts to help describe the Port and our region on a decade-by-decade basis. Find the map online at portoftacoma.com/100.