The Florida Ports Council reported record cargo handling and cruise passenger figures for 2023 amidst calls for increased infrastructure funding.
The Florida Ports Council announced record-breaking figures for cargo handling and cruise passengers, amidst intense competition from neighboring states.
Total cargo units handled by Florida’s ports reached 114.25 million tons in 2023, a 1.5 percent rise from 2022, while the number of cruise passengers climbed to 19.4 million, marking a 3.1 percent compound annual growth rate since 2010. Per the Council’s latest Economic Impact Study, it was found that the state’s 16 ports, through cargo and cruise activities, supported 900,000 jobs in Florida with an economic contribution value of $117.6 billion, or 13.3 percent of the state’s total GDP.
“Thanks to past investments, our ports were ready to handle the largest of ships and the cargo they carry when America needed us most,” said Mike Rubin, Florida Ports Council President and CEO.
In 2024, Florida is estimated to handle approximately 60 percent of America’s cruise passenger embarkations while maintaining its position as a global hub for mega yacht extended marina stays, and increasingly, for maintenance. Moreover, the state hosts 20 Foreign-Trade Zones.
Individual ports also serve as economic engines for their regions, with the Port of Miami posting a growth rate of approximately 73 percent in operating revenues from $99.4 million in 2021 to $172.4 million in 2022 and contributing $48.8 billion annually to Miami-Dade County’s economy, per internal data, and supporting more than 334,500 jobs in Florida. The port has also been referred to as the Cruise Capital of the World, delivering 4.33 million visitors through its corridor per year.
Meanwhile, Port Canaveral CEO John Murray said during his ‘State of the Port’ speech in November that it is preparing for an influx of 7.3 million cruise passengers through 913 ship calls, spurred by the deployment of new and renovated ships from major cruise lines, including Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Freedom, Disney’s cruise experience, and Royal Caribbean’s fleet.
“This winter we’re going to have 13 homeported vessels, which is a slightly different mix than last year,” said Murray. “We have a forecast for 7.3 million cruise guests, which is a significant bump.”
For the current Fiscal Year, Port Canaveral is forecasting its series of strategic developments and an increased number of cruise passengers to keep the revenue on par with projections. According to Murray’s presentation, the port is actively investing in expansions and improvements, including adding new ships and building new facilities, which support the projection of maintaining strong revenue.
Despite the record numbers, the Florida Ports Council is lobbying the Florida Legislature for increased investment in the state’s seaports amidst infrastructure gains made in competing states Texas and Georgia.
In his monthly ‘President’s Message’ update, Rubin called upon the state’s lawmakers to make stronger investments in Florida’s ports. Rubin specifically made mention of improvements to dock rehabilitation, port capacity increases, cargo container handling crane support, connectivity improvements, and congestion relief.
Rubin’s plea comes as competing states have increased investments in their port infrastructures, including Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s approval of $200 million for 31 seaport projects and the expansion of the Brunswick port facility in Georgia in an attempt to become the largest hub for automobile imports.
“As history has proven, investments in our seaports lead to more jobs and revenue for Florida’s economy,” said Rubin. “But Florida literally faces a fork in the road decision – we either continue to make significant investments to allow Florida to seize the growing global trade opportunity, or we allow it to pass us by for states like California, Texas, Georgia, and others on the Eastern seaboard.”
To bolster productivity, Florida’s 16 seaports have identified more than $5 billion in investments through their Capital Improvement Plans (CIP) for the period beginning in 2024 and running through 2028.
“Continued bold investments will help ensure Florida’s system of seaports can further strengthen its position on the global trade hub stage, and ensure our state’s facilities remain attractive for even more East-West, North-South trade,” Rubin said.
In Gov. Ron DeSantis’ budget recommendations for Fiscal Year 2024-25, he recommended $75 million in grants for Florida’s ports, logistics centers, and fuel pipelines, including vertiport development. The governor also $109.6 million for port infrastructure improvements.