From day one, the Greater Houston Port Bureau has sought to pursue the goals that would bring the greatest benefits to the broad spectrum of our members and stakeholders in the port region. Our formation in 1929 was the result of diverse public and semi-public agencies interested in furthering the development of the Port of Houston. Our focus was twofold: promote and solicit tonnage for the Port of Houston and provide services to shippers.
The burst of activity that followed in our early days of business shows the staff opening field offices, publishing the weekly “Houston Port Register” bulletin, and initiating thousands of contacts on behalf of Houston’s maritime industry. As we approached our first anniversary, the May 1930 Houston Port & City magazine reported representatives from the Port Bureau made more than 4,231 visits to shippers, of which 1,225 visits were to shippers not currently calling on Houston. Visits to forwarders and brokers totaled 540, visits to railroads 579, and 768 visits were made to steamship companies. The magazine further notes:
“One of the greatest services rendered by the bureau is the quoting of rates, obtaining bookings and assisting in the tracing of shipments and during this period 1,275 services of this nature were performed. In order to obtain this result, the representatives during this period traveled 19,107 miles by train and 17,208 miles by automobile in order to come in contact with the people who are making use of the Port of Houston.”
In 1936, we became known as the Houston Port and Traffic Bureau to reflect the addition of upholding a competitive transportation rate for Houston’s port to our agenda. It was another way the Port Bureau would seek to benefit the port community. J. Russell Wait, then-chairman of the Port Bureau’s executive committee, offers a detailed look at this objective in a letter penned in March 1936:
Object of the Bureau. In order that Houston port interests may present a solid front in all activities pertaining to transportation, the Houston Port and Traffic Bureau was organized. Its direct object shall be:
Act as fact-finding body, to discover causes for freight moving to competitive districts which may properly belong to Houston.
Work out ways and means of securing Houston tonnage for Houston.
Be particularly vigilant in pressing rail lines, truck lines, and steamship lines for proper rate structures, justified by Houston’s geological location, and to insist on the removal of any differentials improperly placed against Houston.
Press before Interstate Commerce Commission, Texas state Railroad Commission, United States Shipping Board, or other state or government control body, suits and cases calculated to secure quality of rates and transportation practices for Houston.
The ensuing decades would see the Port Bureau working with various agencies, particularly the Interstate Commerce Commissions, on a regular basis. In fact, in 1959 the Port Bureau was reorganized again to “protect and strengthen” the rate structure of the Port of Houston. This work on behalf of the port region was complex and represented the wide variety of interests relying on Houston’s waterway. In 1962, the “Port Bureau Reports” column was added to the Port of Houston Magazine to keep constituents informed about the activities impacting their maritime interests.
Writing for an article in the Houston Port Book in 1951, George K. Reeder, then-general manager of the Port Bureau, recollects the Port Bureau’s mandate to “tell the story of the Port of Houston” in the post-war era. This is still an imperative today as the Port Bureau continues its work to support the current market and industry which benefits everyone in the port region. Our leadership from our board of directors still represents the broad segments of the maritime community, and we help our 220-plus member companies work together to advance efficiency and prosperity in the port community.
This is accomplished informally through providing vessel movement data from the Marine Exchange of the West Gulf, hosting networking programs and educational events, such as our Commerce Club series of luncheons, Port 101 seminars, our Captain’s Cup Golf Tournament, and our annual Maritime Dinner.
It is also done more formally through our Efficiency and Advocacy committees. In 2018, the Efficiency Committee established a working group to study areas for improvement for chemical tanker port calls. The working group built out a cost model to identify solutions, with the specific aim to reduce cost by 20 percent to improve inefficiencies. As a result, the Efficiency Committee began plans in 2019 for testing the chemical tanker scheduling system, Pronto, with a view towards furthering the optimization goal.
The Advocacy Committee strives to broaden understanding and recognition of the significant trends and value of the port region to existing and new audiences. We “tell the story” of how the greater port of Houston is a key national asset, providing unmatched capacity, flexibility, and reliability. Such awareness helps to strengthen support for projects crucial to the future of the port region, such as the current push to deepen and widen the Houston Ship Channel (Project 11).
Just as we worked to further business development in 1929 of a fairly young and enterprising port, the Port Bureau continues to work with our members in 2019 to see that opportunity continues to flourish along the Houston Ship Channel for all.