It’s full steam ahead for the future of both Port Canaveral and Port of Tampa.
Add up all the passengers that cruised from Port Canaveral and Port of Tampa last year and you’d arrive at a number greater than 2 million. Each year it seems a new and improved vessel joins the fleet of gargantuan cruise ships that call these ports home. As the fleet grows, so do the number of passengers. The last few years have continued to show passenger increases in record numbers.
Yet, the growth of Tampa and Canaveral’s cruise industries isn’t the only news making headlines. This year both ports announced plans to expand infrastructure and enhance access to international markets.
Port Canaveral, which will celebrate its 60th anniversary in November, unveiled a plan to begin widening and deepening its nearly four-mile channel this fall. The increases of 100 feet in width and two feet in depth, expected to be completed next year, will allow the port to accommodate larger cruise ships as well as larger tankers and bulk carrier ships.
“The widening is essential for cruise and also eventually will aid growing cargo ships,” Port Canaveral CEO John E. Walsh says. “The depth is purely cargo-based, allowing larger bulk and liquid bulk ships bringing those lines greater efficiency.”
As the channel project pushes forward, so too do plans for the development of an inland port. Designed to stimulate commercial activity in Brevard County and ultimately create greater access to Central Florida’s consumer markets, as well as to markets in the Southeast and Midwest, the inland port will utilize dedicated barges to carry cargo from Port Canaveral to inland transfer points and ultimately to the Florida East Coast Railway.
“It will mean more jobs for our region and cost savings for area businesses, which allow for lower consumer pricing,” Walsh says.
Such improvements are anchored in the aim to strengthen Port Canaveral’s position as Central Florida’s maritime gateway to the world. Currently Port Canaveral trades with 30 different countries in key regions such as the Caribbean, Central and South America, Europe and Africa. In 2012, 3.9 million short tons of cargo moved through Port Canaveral, including perishables, juices, heavy equipment, autos, building materials, aggregates and fertilizers.
As part of the existing infrastructure, Port Canaveral is building two new deepwater cargo berths and has purchased two ship-to-shore harbor cranes dedicated to loading and unloading ship containers. Walsh says that not only will these cargo terminals benefit the inland port, but more critically, they will lead to local distribution and thousands of future jobs and business opportunities in north Brevard.
Port Canaveral also plans to begin construction of its $22 million attraction, The Cove, in 2014. The 500,000- square-foot retail and office complex is projected to cost $25 million.
Florida’s second-busiest port, the Port of Tampa, annually contributes an estimated $2 billion in revenue and 17,000 jobs to the Central Florida economy.
“The economic impact of a port is much more than the ships coming in,” cites Raul Alfonso, executive vice president of the Tampa Port Authority (TPA), the largest economic engine in west Central Florida, supporting about 80,000 jobs and generating $15.1 billion in annual economic impact.
In August TPA announced the development of a new express rail service for refrigerated cargoes between Tampa and the Midwest. “Green Express” will provide two dedicated express trains per week, connecting Tampa and the Chicago/Kingsbury, Ind., area in just 56 hours.
“Being so close to Central America and Mexico allows us to provide Central Florida consumers with a better alternative for fresh produce,” Alfonso says. “This is a huge opportunity for us because we can go to growers and exporters and offer a complete supply chain from their farms to Florida and on to the Midwest market.” Nearly 40 percent of all cargo moving in and out of the state of Florida comes through the Port of Tampa.
In July TFA and AMPORTS signed a letter of intent to develop a new terminal dedicated to the import and export of automobiles and rolling stock. “We do 5,000 cars a year here, mostly exports, but the potential comes on the heels of increased manufacturing in Mexico, which is fast becoming a manufacturing mecca. Their brands include Mazda, Ford, and Mercedes Benz. We estimate that we’ll go from 2.8 million cars to 4 million by 2016,” Alfonso says.
It’s expected that the Green Express and AMPORTS projects will be operational by the third or fourth quarter in 2014.
“What we are all about at the port is creating public and private partnerships that invest in the long-term success of the region,” says Alfonso, who is quick to point out that when (and if) trade embargoes are lifted with Cuba, Tampa will be poised to take advantage of the opportunity. “We are in a strategic position and have the land capacity and the partnerships with private industry to be a key player. We’re ready for great things.”