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Alabama State Port Authority’s growth story transcends geographical luck

Ocean Network Express will launch a weekly direct service between Asia and the U.S. Gulf in April.

Photo credit: Alabama State Port Authority

If you’re looking for hopeful economic news, look toward the Southeastern ports ⁠— specifically the Port of Mobile in Alabama. 

2021 is looking to be another strong year for the port’s containerized cargo growth, and it’s partly because transit times between Asia and the U.S. inlands are comparable via the Port of Mobile⁠ — an alternative gateway for international shippers to reach four major population centers in one day: the U.S. Gulf, East Coast, Midwest and Canada. 

The unprecedented trans-Pacific volumes have recently motivated members of THE Alliance Ocean Network Express (ONE) to launch a weekly direct service between Asia and the U.S. Gulf in April, including a stop at the Port of Mobile. 

However, the recent increase of the port’s utilization is not just a story about Alabama’s opportune geographic location. 

“The U.S. Southeast region’s business expansion and recruitment success has been in part due to several factors, including available land, efficient and cost-effective access to transportation assets, favorable utilities rates and available workforce,” said Judith Adams, VP of marketing at the Alabama State Port Authority. 

The Port of Mobile’s growth is uniquely buoyed by strategic partnerships between the APM Terminals Mobile and Alabama State Port Authority, which launched in 2008 after shippers repeatedly expressed frustration with congestion and inland freight rates to traditional east/west gateways. Retired Port Authority Director Jimmy Lyons worked with his team to identify underserved market opportunities from the northern Gulf to Chicago and regions in between. 

Since then, the terminal has expanded twice, adding an intermodal container transfer facility and upgraded to super post-Panamax infrastructure in advance of the seaport’s 50-foot deepening by 2025. Supply chain flexibility and lower costs give the Port of Mobile a competitive advantage, as do 15,000 miles of inland waterway connections and the five Class I railroads adjacent to APM Terminals Mobile, which makes for seamless transfer of the cargo from the intermodal container transfer facility.

Today, more and more beneficial cargo owners (BCOs) are moving manufacturing and warehousing to Alabama, joining the likes of Hyundai, Walmart, Amazon and Mercedes-Benz ⁠— the company that began this wave in 1997 when it moved its manufacturing facility to Tuscaloosa in search of cost efficiency while retaining product quality and the ability to complete in the global marketplace. 

In June, BendPak, a manufacturer of automotive lifts for car dealerships and parking garages, opened a 100,000-square-foot distribution center 11 miles from APM Terminals Mobile.   

Later this year, MTC Logistics will complete construction on its $61 million facility next to the Alabama State Port Authority’s container terminal. This 12 million-cubic-feet cold storage facility will generate at least 50 jobs and provide the capacity necessary to handle the region’s growing exports of refrigerated goods, namely poultry.

Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia happen to be the country’s largest poultry producers, so the new facility will focus on poultry exports. Adams said the new facility would quadruple the blast freeze and cold storage facility at the port. 

“The newer carrier strings into the U.S. Gulf have been growing, in part due to congestion issues on both the East and West coasts, but there is the lure of backhaul cargo as well,” said Adams. “The U.S. ports strings are export lift ports. For every container coming in, there is backhaul cargo waiting to be loaded.  With the arrival of international distribution centers at the Port of Mobile, the positioning of empties is increasing for pent-up export demand.”

Over the past 20 years, more than $1.3 billion has been invested into Alabama State Port Authority’s public seaport, inland waterway and rail infrastructure to meet these growth demands of advanced manufacturing, as well as the core mining and agribusiness sectors. Another $750 million has been invested in projects that are still underway, which includes the channel deepening and widening project.

Corrie White

Corrie is fascinated how the supply chain is simultaneously ubiquitous and invisible. She covers freight technology, cross-border freight and the effects of consumer behavior on the freight industry. Alongside writing about transportation, her poetry has been published widely in literary magazines. She holds degrees in English and Creative Writing from UNC Chapel Hill and UNC Greensboro.