Florida’s ports are famous for underperforming. Last year, they handled just 10.2 percent of the U.S. export container traffic and 4.8 percent of the import traffic.
In 2016 the Panama Canal expansion project will be finished. With the U.S. population continuing to shift toward the Southeast and an abundance of affordable land in desirable areas, Florida can become a new hub for cargo imports from Asia, but first Florida will have to improve its infrastructure and it needs to happen quickly.
New York, Baltimore and Norfolk are the only three ports on the east coast with capabilities to handle the megaships that will be coming through the Panama Canal once the expansion is complete. Miami will soon complete a $205 million dredging project and Jacksonville is deepening its harbor by another 47 feet, as well. The new Port Canaveral—which is yet to see any container imports—also has plans to dredge its channel from 46 to 55 feet deep. These improvements will help, but as far as infrastructure, Florida needs to look past the depth of its water and improve what it has on land.
Since the state is further from inland logistics hubs, in order to be a real player, the Sunshine State needs to close the cost and time gap to get product inland. Port Canaveral is located in the middle of the state with pretty easy access to major cities such as Orlando and Atlanta, if it wanted to grab some of Savannah’s business—but getting the cargo inland first is a hassle. Cargo coming in through the port must be trucked 16 miles to the Florida East Coast Railroad. There are plans in the works for a railroad, which haven’t been approved yet, that could catapult the cruise port onto the global stage for cargo. This multi-modal improvement would bring Port Canaveral direct rail access that would diversify the port’s cargo capabilities and elevate it to a level on par with seaports throughout the Southeast.
Digital infrastructure is just as important. The Port of New York and New Jersey has been clogged with miles-long traffic jams with truckers waiting for hours to pick up their freight. This is where the tech industry can assist. We need programs that can expedite the unloading process and improved software that can manage chassis rotation to prevent shortages. Currently, smart phone apps that follow the Uber model are being tested to decrease the truckers wait time and queue at the port by matching shipments with drivers. Florida should be the first to jump on such technology.
A combined effort between the public and private sector is the only way to build a fluid and independent east coast supply chain. Florida has the potential to take on a big part of the Asia-U.S. import market, but infrastructural and technological changes need to be implemented in order to make a difference in global supply chain operations.
Tony McGee is the CEO of HNM Global Logistics, a full service freight forwarder with capabilities in all modes of transportation. He oversees the strategic direction and business development of HNM’s international and domestic offerings.