Last year JAXPORT CEO Eric Green delivered his State of the Port 2020 address to a crowd of more than 450 over lunch in a Jacksonville, Florida, hotel ballroom.
The world has changed, but the Jacksonville Port Authority chief executive officer still delivered an optimistic forecast for 2021 in an across-the-table conversation with Jamie Shelton, the JAXPORT board chairman, on Tuesday.
“We continue to see container growth in the Puerto Rico market as well as an uptick and a rebound on the Asian international trade,” Green said. “As you know, we all took a hit in the auto market, but our military cargo made up for that, so we’ve seen a tremendous rebound.”
He expects to continue to ride on vehicle volumes in 2021.
“We’re one of the top vehicle-handling ports in the entire nation. Last year we handled almost 700,000 vehicles here. Land is in demand. We’re currently looking at how do we actually create the ability to grow our vehicle-handling capabilities. The Southeast U.S. is a huge consumer market when it comes to autos,” Green said.
Acquiring land is one of the goals laid out in JAXPORT’s new strategic master plan, which was unveiled Tuesday.
“One of our biggest goals is to add at least 300 or 400 acres in the near future — not the distant future,” Green said, adding that “this acreage would give us space needed to grow and take advantage of an already booming cargo commodity that we have here at the port.”
Expansion on the water also is included in the goals. Completing the first 11 miles of the harbor deepening through Blount Island figures prominently in the strategic plan. That work is on track to be completed in 2022 — two years ahead of the original schedule.
“It’s going to be an immediate economic benefit to our community, and what that equates to is jobs,” Green said. “We’re seeing larger ships, and you have to be able to optimize the depth of your channel so those ships can operate.”
A $104 million project that includes berth enhancements at the SSA Jacksonville Container Terminal at Blount Island is slated to be completed at the same time as the harbor-deepening project. The contractor already has completed 700 linear feet of newly rebuilt berthing space at the terminal, which is being rehabilitated through a public-private partnership between JAXPORT and SSA Atlantic.
Green referred to the port partner Tuesday, saying SSA is “making huge investments in the facilities here as well as adding new and improved equipment so that they can maximize the operation of the terminal and become even more efficient than what they are today.”
Upon completion of the berth enhancements, the SSA terminal will feature two newly reconstructed 1,200-foot-long container berths capable of simultaneously accommodating two post-Panamax vessels.
To accommodate increasingly larger ships, JAXPORT is “improving our turning basin to be able to handle those post-Panamax vessels,” he added.
All the projects currently underway will help JAXPORT achieve its goal of expanding the breakbulk business, Green said.
“Diversification is very important to our business. We’ve consistently been strong when it comes to breakbulk. We’ve seen it increase year-over-year — and that’s every year,” he said, pointing to warehousing space and two Class I railroads in Jacksonville.
“There’s tremendous opportunity for Florida-bound cargo. We see almost a million additional containers that enter into the state of Florida from other ports, so this has created opportunity for us. We have millions of square feet of distribution space as well as the great network of manufacturers’ facilities here. So we are poised and we are bound to see growth over the next couple of years,” Green said.
“We are very ambitious. We have a commercial team that is ready and prepared to take advantage of any and all opportunities. Our harbor-deepening project just put us right at the top. Our infrastructure is in place.”
The full list of goals to be carried out through 2025 in the new strategic plan calls for the expansion of the container, vehicle and breakbulk lines of business; acquisition of land near the port; completion of the harbor deepening; generation of revenue from all port-owned property; rebuilding of the cruise line business; investment in technological solutions as well as infrastructure, equipment and facilities; and building on core competencies, including brand management, employee development, financial reporting and safety.
“You’ve seen a lot of plans that go up on a shelf and are never executed, but this particular plan, we’re really excited about. A lot of thought and research went into creating and developing this plan. It positions JAXPORT and northeast Florida for the future and great things to come,” Green said.