The leading port complex on the West Coast -- side-by-side Los Angeles and Long Beach -- expects record trade activity this year, despite a downturn in other segments of the economy.
The dual harbor facilities are exceeded only by New York and New Orleans in total dollar volume of waterborne foreign trade. To keep pace with the mushrooming growth, both ports are in the throes of expansion.
The Port of Los Angeles is undergoing a five-year $416 million capital development program aimed at further modernizing facilities to handle larger container vessels. A completed 135-acre container terminal complex is the largest such facility on the West Coast. A 4,000-foot wharf, with six giant gantry cranes, can accommodate five or six container vessels simultaneously.
Another terminal will feature computer-controlled container handling systems. These are expected to eliminate costly equipment and maintenance while speeding up cargo movement.
Meanwhile, the Port of Long Beach plans to build an automobile terminal spanning 150 acres. It will be one of the world's largest. Other projects include a lumber terminal, a seventh container terminal, a $12 million cement import facility, and $16 million deep-water petroleum terminal.
Long Beach also plans an initial 11.4-acre foreign trade zone which it sees stimulating manufacturing, importing, and exporting enterpises. It will mark the first time these firms will be able to process foreign goods and components in an area where customs charges can be deferred and duty fixed at entry, minimizing import costs.
The Los Angeles customs district (which includes air shipments) accounted for 61 percent of California's total foreign trade last year. That translates into of California's $36.4 billion in 1978.
Foreign trade experts see a 10 to 12 percent gain this year, spurred by increased "Pacific rim" activity.
Shipping traffic at Los Angeles and Long Beach harbors rose to 530 vessels in February (the latest reporting month) from 527 in the like year-earlier period. Net tonnage increased to 7.7 million from 7 million.
Total revenue tonnage through the Port of Los Angeles in the fiscal year added June 30 rose to 40.2 million from 38.6 million a year prior. The port, with a 28-mile waterfront, is used by more than 40 shipping lines. The Los Angeles Harbor Department estimates 20,000 regional businesses are dependent on harbor trade and 130,000 jobs are directly or indirectly reliant on the facility's operations.
At adjacent Long Beach Harbor, total revenue tonnage almost matches that of Los Angeles: 39.4 million in the fiscal year ended June 30, up from 33.4 million a year earlier. The latest year saw a record 3,789 vessel arrivals.
Leading commodities exported through the Los Angeles customs district last year were machinery and mechanical equipment (such as computers and office machines), electrical machinery and equipment (mostly electronic components), and transportation equipment (particularly aircraft and parts). Those top three commodities were up between 30 and 50 percent from 1978's level, says Glady's Moreau, assistant vice-president and head of the international trade databank, Security Pacific National Bank, Los Angeles.
Heading the imports list were transportation equipment (primarily automobiles), electrical machinery and equipment (including consumer appliances) , and petroleum.
Last year's foreign trade was stronger than originally predicted, notes Mrs. Moreau. "We expected exports from California would rise 20 to 25 percent last year, so a 36 percent gain is surprisingly strong," she adds. "Imports were also stronger than predicted" -- showing a 16 percent gain.
"Both larger-than-expected gains were because the recession that was predicted for 1979 didn't happen -- either in the US or abroad -- and overseas sales were boosted by the lower US dollar," she explains.