Seeing the big picture
A first-of-its-kind study by the Florida DOT puts ports in perspective
The Florida Department of Transportation has put together a study that shows not only how Florida ports stack up against one another, but how all the state ports compare against the competition from the rest of the South Atlantic and Gulf coasts.
By looking at Florida ports both individually and as a group, the study draws some conclusions that could easily be overlooked by the shipping community.
For example, while ports like Norfolk, Charleston Savannah, and Houston are considered the powerhouse containerports of the South Atlantic and Gulf coasts, Florida is a significantly larger market for containerized cargo than Georgia, South Carolina, or Texas.
In 2004, the year for which the FDOT could put together a complete set of statistics, there were 1.86 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of containerized cargo handled in South Carolina, 1.85 million TEUs for Virginia, 1.66 million TEUs handled in Georgia, and 1.5 million TEUs in all of Texas. But Florida's container ports combined to handle 2.66 million TEUs.
While the numbers are changing'the Port of Savannah just reported it hit the 2 million TEU mark for its fiscal year 2005'Florida would still handle more containerized traffic even if its ports were not gaining volumes.
'I've never seen numbers where they have the volumes for the whole state,' commented Charles Towsley, the president of the port consulting firm Maritime Directions and the former director of the Port of Miami. 'That gives you a different perspective about the importance of that state's ports.'
The study was put together for the FDOT by Cambridge Systematics, Inc.
In addition to just looking at container volumes, the study compiled numbers for total tonnage, vehicles handled, and cruise passengers. It also looked at state-level funding for seaports and related intermodal infrastructure for Florida and competing port ranges, plus the proportionate funding for individual Florida ports.
The study also gathered statistics on the return on investment (ROI) for state funds allocated for ports, and concluded that there is $6.90 worth of economic and transportation benefits to Florida for every $1 of state expenditures. The study said that resulted in a net present value (NPV) of $3.6 billion.
On the Atlantic Coast, the study gathered data for Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia. On the Gulf Coast, there was data for Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. The FDOT used the Maritime Administration, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the American Association of Port Authorities to compile the study statistics.
Florida is not only the leading state for container traffic, it is tops among the competing states in vehicles handled, and, not surprisingly, cruise passengers. It is third among the nine states in total tonnage, which is dominated by bulk cargoes. Texas is the leader in that category, followed by Louisiana.
For vehicles handled, Florida had a total of 486,000 for 2004, topping Georgia, which had 315,000 and South Carolina with 160,000.
While Florida is a leader in maritime business compared to the other southern states and continues to enjoy volume gains, the study said other states are actually picking up market share.
'Other ports on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts are becoming more formidable competitors and are gaining higher shares of international trade, freight traffic, and cruise passengers,' the study said.
That should prompt Florida officials to look at the level of investments being made into ports, the study recommends.
In terms of port-related state spending, Florida has been increasing its spending with projects such as its Strategic Intermodal System (SIS) and 'Growth Management' initiatives, other states are spending at similar or higher levels, especially in relation to the volumes and total number of ports involved.
The numbers are somewhat skewed because of the difference in cargoes handled. For example, Louisiana and Texas have disproportionately high levels of tonnage because of their massive bulk tonnage volumes, while states like Alabama and North Carolina have minimal container business.
The study notes that Florida has the second lowest amount of state funding compared to TEUs handled, trailing only South Carolina. The Port of Charleston, which is actually a state-controlled port, is dependent almost completely on revenue it generates on its own from port users. South Carolina prides $2 per container, while Florida puts up $19 per container.
The average for state spending per container for the seven states measured in that part of the study is $38 per TEU.
Florida's four largest ports, in terms of the dollar value of cargo handled'Miami, Jacksonville, Port Everglades, and Tampa'combined to move $56.8 billion in seaborne trade in 2005, the study said.
The reasons differ somewhat. Miami, for example, is the state leader because of the high value of its containerized cargoes, while Jacksonville is second by combining its containerized cargo and it high volume of vehicles. Everglades, meanwhile, handles a mix of containers and petroleum products to rank third. The Port of Tampa, a bulk specialist that has by far the highest tonnage totals'just under 50 million tons in 2004 compared to runner Everglades' 26 million tons'moves cargo with comparatively low dollar value.
The study points out that the smallest of the state's 14 deepwater ports get proportionately higher levels of state funding. That is because the smallest ports have the lowest levels of self-funding and significantly less revenue generating capabilities, the study concluded.
Perhaps the most encouraging number across the board is the gains Florida is receiving from its port spending.
In addition to the $6.90/$1 ratio cited in the study, it projected that DOT seaport investments will continue to pay off in the years ahead.
The study estimates that in the next five years, state funding will generate an addition $1.6 billion in business output and create 15,650 permanent jobs. Those jobs will provide $491 million in personal income for Florida residents by the year 2020.