TALLAHASSEE — Florida port officials will head to California this month to push for more cargo ships to come to Florida to help ease global supply chain issues.
Members of the Florida Ports Council said they have already seen the state’s ports take in more business since they increased efforts in October to capitalize on congestion at the ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif. They said a trip to California during the last week of February to a major shipping conference known as TPM22 will be used to further “beat that drum.”
“We’re going to put ourselves front and center into the battleground,” said Jonathan Daniels, chief executive and port director at Port Everglades and chairman of the Florida Ports Council, said during a “State of Seaports” address last week at the Capitol.
Michael Rubin, president and CEO of the Florida Ports Council, said the TPM conference is a chance to further “take advantage of a national discussion” and build on years of investments Florida has made in its port system.
The conference will come after the industry publication Logistics Management reported last week that experts estimate the pressure on global supply chains will continue until “the second half of the year at the earliest.”
“Above all, the consensus is that the pressure on the ocean freight market will continue in 2022, and freight rates are unlikely to fall back to pre-COVID levels,” Logistics Management reported. “Capacity problems and congestion in the ports will continue to combine with strong global demand in the consumer goods sector.”
While other ports along the Atlantic and gulf coasts have also increased efforts to attract more cargo as e-commerce consumer demand has risen during the pandemic, Florida officials believe their approach is different by selling the 14 ports from Pensacola to Key West to Fernandina Beach as a single unit rather than highlighting individual facilities.
“It’s really a Florida’s-ports-first system, regardless as to whether it is JAXPORT, Port Tampa, Miami, Everglades, Panama City, let’s get it into the state first,” Daniels said. “If we can’t handle it in one port, for one reason or another, let’s make sure that we get it into another port. We are more competitive as ports.”
In his address, which gave little attention to the passenger cruise industry, Daniels said the pandemic “exposed significant weaknesses” in global supply chains but also showed efficiencies in Florida.
“While hundreds of cargo ships are currently anchored off both the West and the East Coast waiting days and days to have an opportunity to offload their cargo, that is not the case in the state of Florida,” Daniels said. “In fact, Florida seaports are open for business, and business is good.”
In 2020, the ports council estimated the pandemic caused the loss of about $23 billion in economic activity tied to ports, affecting some 169,000 port-related jobs.
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The Florida Seaport Transportation and Economic Development Council estimated waterborne trade at the state’s seaports fell 16.1 percent in 2020 due to the pandemic, a $14.1 billion hit.
Since then, PortMiami and the Port of Panama City have reported record cargo activity, according to the ports council. In October, the Jacksonville port, known as JAXPORT, reported several shipping lines diverting cargo to its port, including Hapag-Lloyd, one of the largest shipping lines in the world.
Initial budgets proposed Friday by the state Senate (SPB 2500) and House (PCB APC 22-01) both included four line items aimed at seaports totaling $135.86 million. That would be up from $110 million in the current fiscal year, which will end June 30.
An additional $56 million in both chambers would be directed toward rail development, up from $40.4 million in the current plan.
As part of his proposed budget, Gov. Ron DeSantis requested $117.3 million for seaport infrastructure improvements. Lawmakers in the coming weeks will negotiate a final budget for the 2022-2023 fiscal year, which will start July 1.
In July, the Florida Department of Transportation spread $250 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act stimulus plan, with the largest chunks going to Port Canaveral at $72.2 million; PortMiami at $66.9 million; and Port Everglades at $58.26 million.
By Jim Turner