West Coast ports backlog has Florida ports in legislative spotlight

by | Dec 16, 2021

(The Center Square) – With more cargo ships turning to Florida seaports to avoid logjams at West Coast and upper East Coast ports, Florida seaports are demonstrating they’re open for business, the Florida Ports Council says.

“Florida is where your success comes in, and our seaports are helping to ensure the cargo shipping logjam doesn’t become the ‘Grinch that stole Christmas,’” the council’s president and CEO Michael Rubin said in a statement.

The state has been working hard to expand its capacity, Rubin notes. Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposed budget for next year allocates nearly $117.3 million to help Florida’s 15 seaports better compete. The goal is to double their capacity to 8 million containers a year.

Florida’s seaports currently support 900,000 direct and indirect jobs and contribute nearly $118 billion to the state’s economy through cargo and cruise activities.

The budget proposal is in addition to $250 million the ports already received in stimulus relief money and other infrastructure grants. Federal grants have helped fund the dredging of deeper ship channels, expanded wharves, piers, terminals, and storage, and helped add cranes and other infrastructure at seaports.

Florida will also get some of the $32 billion in seaport infrastructure money in the recently passed $1 trillion federal infrastructure bill.

Earlier this year, the Florida Seaports Transportation and Economic Development Council (FSTED) identified $3.3 billion in capital improvements at seaports over the next five years.

It also points out that while most individual ports experienced declines last year, three Florida seaports saw containerized cargo volume increases: Port Manatee, Port Tampa Bay, and Port Panama City.

This year, JaxPort and PortMiami saw more cargo ships calling on their ports due to port congestion in other states, the Florida Ports Council notes.

PortMiami, JAXPORT in Jacksonville, and Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, are the busiest seaports in Florida. In 2020, PortMiami was the tenth-busiest port with more than 1 million twenty-foot equivalent units(TEU), a standard unit of measuring container traffic.

Better known as the “Cruise Capital of the World,” PortMiami’s consistent cargo growth has topped 1 million TEU for five years in a row, Container News notes. It contributes $43 billion and more than 334,000 jobs annually to the state’s economy.

The port also recently invested more than $1 billion in capital improvements, including building a 20-meter deep-water channel and acquiring new super Post-Panamax gantry cranes.

Florida’s seaports are located on two major trade lanes, the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, acting as the first port of call for ships coming through the Panama Canal or as far away as from the Suez Canal.

South and Central American and the Caribbean were Florida’s top trade partner regions in 2020, accounting for a larger percentage of total trade last year than in 2019. In 2020, Japan topped China as Florida’s leading import trade partner country for the second year in a row.

When supply chain problems came to a head as cargo ships sat off the coast of California, costing companies millions of dollars, the price of goods to go up, and store shelves empty, Gov. DeSantis encouraged ships to come to Florida ports instead.

If ships are “sitting off the coast somewhere else, and they can be rerouted here, and we can get all those shelves stocked, then we want to be a part of that solution,” he said.

And while a shift from West Coast ports to Florida would require major logistical changes, including additional freight time and costs associated with passing through the Panama Canal, DeSantis says Florida is willing to work with companies to provide a solution.

“Our seaports are used to operating around the clock, they’re used to moving cargo for American families, farmers and businesses,” DeSantis said. “And we think that this is a great solution given our capacity for some of the problems you see in other parts of the country.”

Port Tampa Bay CEO Paul Anderson said at the time, “We want your business. Reroute your thinking. Reroute your cargo to come to Florida. We stand ready to offer you incentives that will make it ideal and cost savings, so that these men and women in our ports can move your cargo to get to consumers.”


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