At port, big success comes with determination to help small business, too

O’Toole, at NJ Bankers event, says Port of NY/NJ relishes its relationship with 8,500 small businesses — and is eager and open to adding to total

It would have been easy for Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Chairman Kevin O’Toole to stick to the big numbers associated with the Port of New York and New Jersey when addressing the crowd at the New Jersey Bankers Association’s annual Economic Forum last week.

He could have detailed how, last year, the port handled 7.8 million TEUs (the big shipping containers), 3.1 million tons of bulk cargo and used a dock rail lift system that put more than 1.5 million containers directly on rail cars — capable of reaching as far as Chicago in 36 hours.

He could have talked about how the port moved 366,796 automobiles (both importing and exporting) or more than 1.1 million cruise passengers.

He could have simply said the port, which has more than 8,000 employees and 2,000 police officers, services more people within a four-drive than the next two ports combined — moving cargo worth an estimated $280 billion.

Instead, when closing a presentation he did alongside Steven Plate (chief of major capital projects) and Bethann Rooney (director of the port department), he reached out to the audience to say: No concern is too small — no matter how small the business may be.

“Beside the big corporations, we deal with 8,500 small businessmen and -women, and I will tell you that, if they’re your businessmen and -women, please let us know any issues your folks have,” he said.

Whether it’s vendors or customers having issues with product or getting access to Requests for Proposals and the bidding process, O’Toole said he wants to know.

“I’m serious,” he said. “Please call us, the door is open.”

It’s the type of dedicated service that has the port on a roll. Not only has the port built Terminal A at Newark Liberty International Airport (and soon to be a new AirTram system) among dozens of other projects, but it has done with a spirit best shown during building of the $25 billion Freedom Tower.

Plate, who has worked at the Port for nearly 50 years, said the project moved him and all who worked on it.

“I’m very humbled to be here today representing 26,000 workers from all walks of life that produced this miracle,” he said after showing an inspiring video. “I was there for two decades watching over it. It was amazing what people can do when they have a purpose.”

Plate said it was a tribute to nearly 3,000 people (including 84 Port Authority employees) who lost their lives on 9/11.

More than that, it was a symbol of strength.

“We have to show the next generation how you respond in a very positive way, bring that bright light to the darkness of that day,” he said.

O’Toole also has been moved by this spirit — and admits it was something he was not expecting when he arrived as chair in July 2017.

Instead of the closed-off group he was expecting to find, he found a group that has helped the port embark on an explosion of activity.

The numbers, of course, are incredible.

Last year, there was more than $200 billion in economic activity at the port, which goes to support — directly and indirectly — approximately 600,000 jobs.

It’s the reason there’s enough business for everyone, O’Toole said. That’s why he ended his presentation with an offer to the group.

O’Toole invited NJ Bankers CEO Michael Affuso to come meet with the extended team at the port to figure out how they could work together to better serve the region.

“I’m sure there’s a way we get an integrated synergy between our associations,” he said.