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Robert Trigaux

Rising doubts emerge that dredging Port of Miami will boost Panama Canal shipping or promised jobs



portofmiami.jpgWake up and good morning. The good news is Florida Gov. Rick Scott at least is trying to generate new business and jobs in this state by putting more investments into some of the state's shipping ports. Most notable, Scott in March pledged $77 million in state funds (here's the official news release) — on top of $120 million of Miami-Dade funding — to deep-dredge the Port of Miami (photo, above) waterway to accommodate bigger ships.

The bad news is there are rising doubts that this strategy -- designed to play off the widened Panama Canal and the superfreighters presumably coming in a few years -- will deliver the economic boost Florida so desperately needs.

The latest criticism comes in this week's Miami New Times, which claims scores of ports around the state and country are competing for the same ships. Only a couple will benefit and, the story says, citing shipping experts, "Miami probably won't be among them." Here's the story.

jean-paulrodriguetransportationexpert.jpgStates the story, citing Jean-Paul Rodrigue (photo, right), a transportation professor at Hofstra University and expert on the Panama Canal expansion: "In effect, Miami is spending itself into a hole to compete for table scraps. New York City, the nation's largest port, is the clear frontrunner for these large 'Panamax' freighters, Rodrigue says. Norfolk, Virginia, already has a Panamax-ready port, and Savannah, Georgia, has better infrastructure than South Florida. Even Fort Lauderdale's Port Everglades is deep-dredging and has signed an agreement with Florida East Coast for its own 48-acre rail yard."

The same story also quotes Port of Miami spokesman Paul Musto, who calls the port competitive. "The economy of South Florida is in serious trouble. The only thing that can get us out of this... is international trade and commerce. So it's important that we're ready."

This brouhaha would be less disturbing if we had not heard versions of it ever since the governor said Florida ports are a major part of his jobs expansion plan for this state. Dredging Miami's port, Scott said, alone would create 30,000 permanent jobs. This Orlando Sentinel story in March pointed out Miami's geographic hurdle as a major port because goods must then travel the length of the Florida peninsula just to reach an adjacent state. That, experts suggest, is neither an efficient nor cost effective way to ship goods.

In June, a St. Petersburg Times story again raised doubts on what the state's ports can deliver. "Scott repeated again and again a goal that has some maritime experts scratching their heads, a goal to make Florida ... The shipping capital of the East Coast, if not the nation," the story said. That same story talked to longtime watcher of Florida's economy, Mark Vitner of Wells Fargo Bank. In the story, at first Vitner misheard a reporter's question about Scott's grand goal.

"Sports capital of the East Coast?" he asked. No, ports capital. "They'd have a better chance," he quipped, "of becoming the sports capital." Read the Times story here.

Maybe we'll all be surprised and Scott's bet on more ports business will prove an economic boom. I would not count on it, however. Florida's in a major economic funk with a stalled 10.7 percent official jobless rate. It would be wise to have a more diversified -- and more intense -- strategy to boost job creation in this state. Pronto.

-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, St. Petersburg Times


[Last modified: Wednesday, August 31, 2011 7:13am]


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