Bill Johnson, Director
FTZ No. 281 • 520 total acres • 52-ft. channel (2015)
Top export destinations: China, Dominican Republic, Honduras
Top export commodities: Wood Pulp, Base Metals, Misc. Edible Preparations
Bill Johnson: We’re about to burst onto the scene as one of the most efficient ports on the East Coast from an infrastructure perspective. We are finishing up $2 billion on infrastructure. Most of it has already been completed—on-dock rail, as well as we’ve got the largest PPP project in the nation, the port tunnel, which will give us the only connection from a port to the interstate without a traffic signal. I restored on-dock/on-port rail last October. So from Port Miami I get 70-plus percent of the entire U.S. population in one to four days by rail directly from the port. Come August of 2015, in advance of Panama, I’ll be the only deep water port on the East Coast south of Virginia that’s 50 feet. We’ve invested and last October I received four additional of the world’s largest Gantry cranes. We have quietly been investing, actually to the tune of $2 billion, to make this one of the most modern and efficient ports in America in terms of the ability to move commodity in and out timely, efficiently and cost effectively.
There’s no secret that it is all about competition, ports competing with each other. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. There’s nothing wrong with Port Miami competing, if you will, with the wonderful Port of Savannah or Norfolk, or Miami competing with Mobile or anywhere else. It keeps us on our toes. Ports do take their strategic advantages, unique characteristics of their ports, and make them work for the American consumer. That’s ultimately what we want to do. I want to be able to move commodity in and out and save the American consumer money.
Global Trade: And you’re about 30 miles from Port Everglades?
Bill Johnson: We’re 30 miles apart. It’s a fine port. I compete with them every day. They compete with me. We’re a friendly port.
Global Trade: In a competition like that, are there certain things that you feel that Port Miami is better situated to handle versus Everglades and vice versa?
Bill Johnson: Sure. I think every port director or every port would articulate what are their strengths. Most are not going to want to talk about their weaknesses. What do I sell in Port Miami? I sell that I’m the first major U.S. port coming north from the Panama Canal. So geography is extremely important not just to my port, but I think to America. Come July of 2015, you can bring into Port Miami Super-Post Panamax container ship carrying fully loaded 12,000-13,000 TEUs. Not 4,000 or 5,000. We can do that, but you can bring in triple the volume literally less than 18 months from now. That’s a huge significant reduction in cost to move on a larger Super-Post Panamax ship. So I’ll have the water depth and I have also the Super-Post Panamax cranes. It does you very little good to have 50 feet of water if you don’t have the lay-down space, if you don’t have the cranes, if you can’t move the box, if you can’t move the container timely and efficiently. Ultimately, you have to have everything to be a big ship-ready port and Port Miami, come summer of 2015, will have all the bells and whistles, all the things necessary and required to make us a Super-Post Panamax port, which ultimately to the American consumer should result in significant cost savings in moving products in and out, import and export. I can get you to Cleveland, I can get you to Chicago, I can get you to Memphis and I can get you to Charlotte, North Carolina, in less time at less cost. So why would you go to a port farther north of me on a ship carrying 4,000 maximum or 5,000 TEUs when you can come to the first U.S. port, the first port of call coming in from Panama, Miami, under sunshine, not 30 miles up a river, two and a half nautical miles total. So in Miami you’re coming into sunshine, you’re coming into two and a half, less than three miles, from the buoy straight in at 50 to 52 feet, no games, no politics, no waiting, you’re straight in. You’ve got the cranes. You immediately go onto rail, if you choose to do that, double stack containers, or you move seamlessly through a four-lane tunnel under Biscayne Bay literally without a single traffic signal, making us clearly the only port in America with a direct connection from the port to the interstate with no impediments, no traffic signals. It’s called “prime the market,” feed the market and it’s called saving consumers money. Ultimately, it should result in, if you will, the ability to move that product in and out safely, efficiently and again, most importantly, cost effectively.
We’ve invested a lot of time and energy over the last eight years to make sure that PortMiami has a clear, concise vision, not for today but for tomorrow, for the future. We’ve been acting on that vision. I’ve for the last eight years been working in Washington with Congress, with Capitol Hill, with the Pentagon, the Army Corps. I’ve also had the entire Army Corps command staff down here, 15 of them from Jacksonville, the district office, in my office. So our dredge is under way. Our dredge does not need to be authorized, it doesn’t need to be designed, it doesn’t need to be funded. Our project was authorized in 2007 by Congress. Our project was designed. We went through the whole environmental permitting, the NEPA process and it’s the first time in American history that a port and a state have stepped forward and funded 100 percent of a dredge project. No time in U.S. history has a port had the cojones to step up, fund what is a federal responsibility or a significant portion of this is a federal responsibility. There’s not a single federal dollar involved in the Port Miami deep dredge.
Global Trade: And now you’re going to be about a year and a half to two years ahead of a lot of your East Coast peers in getting Super-Post Panamax ships, right?
Bill Johnson: I don’t know what it is. I wish them all well, but knowing how slow Washington reacts and how slow things are, I think it could be as much as 2025 before we see another port, other than Miami, at 50 feet of water. Some ports will tell you they’ll be there at 2016, 2017. I wish them the very, very best. I’ve been port director eight years, and mine has been the perfect, perfect, perfect, alignment. It’s like God has aligned all the stars. It’s taken me eight years to get to this point. Some of the ports, I wish them well but first they’re not even congressionally authorized. Two, they don’t have Chief’s Report from the Corps. Then they’ve got to go through the NEPA process. Then they’ve got to get funded. They’ve got to get engineered and designed. You’re talking years. Realistically, I don’t think there will be another port south of Virginia, other than Miami, at 50 feet well into the next decade, realistically, if you’re honest. They’ve got to be honest with themselves. I wish them well. I’m not like sitting back gloating. I busted my ass. I’ve lived in Washington. Some months I’ve been in Washington every single week. So I’ve worked the Pentagon. I’ve worked Capitol Hill. I’ve worked the Administration, both the Bush Administration, the Obama Administration, OK? I doubt there’s a person in Washington who does not know about the Port Miami deep dredge. I made it a point. I made it my mission in life to make sure that Washington understood the importance of Port Miami getting to 50 feet, the importance of deep dredge. And other ports need to dredge, and other ports need big cranes and other ports need intermodal. You can’t just have 50 feet of water. You have to have the full compliment. You’ve got to be able to unload that ship. That takes Super-Post Panamax cranes. You’ve got to have the ability to move it. So Miami has the water, it has the cranes, it has the rail, it has the tunnel.
Global Trade: And the cranes are already in place, correct?
Bill Johnson: Yeah, I put four new ones in last October. Four of the world’s biggest came in last fall. They’re operational.
Global Trade: And how many containers across are they handling?
Bill Johnson: I have six of the world’s biggest cranes right now. They will reach at 22 across, the biggest right now and I’m going to get four more before the decade is over. So I’ll have 10 of the biggest cranes in the world. We are just under a million TEUs. We have the capacity with this infrastructure to go to 4 million TEUs. My job is to sell the port, to get additional containers here. Where would I like to be? I would like to be at 2 million TEUs by the end of this decade.
Global Trade: Are you on track?
Bill Johnson: Well, we’re pushing it. I’m out hustling. I’ve been to 10 countries since Jan. 5. [As of] Feb. 13, I’ve been in Miami and I’m moving to Argentina [in a few days]. I’ve been on three continents. I’ve been in China, Japan. I’ve been to Singapore, Taiwan. I’ve been in Mexico. I’ve been in Panama. I’ve been all over Europe. I’ve been to 10 countries in less than six weeks.
We’re busy. And, of course, we’re still the busiest cruise port in the world. We’re growing by 1 million cruise passengers this year. That’s lots of commodity, fruits, vegetables and perishables and other things that need to be moved across America to go onto these massive cruise ships. Again, it is the world’s busiest cruise port. We’re the only port in the world that has ever done 4 million. I’ve been year after year after year after year 4 million plus. This year we’ll hit 5 million.
Global Trade: So with your TEU targets and as that goal is coming into shape and you’re increasing all the time, what is growing faster, your imports or your exports?
Bill Johnson: Our exports are strong. Every year over 50 percent of my businesses are exports. We’re a dominant port to the South; 55 percent of my trade is to the Americas. We are very focused on the Americas. Our largest single country as a trade partner is China. China is 20 percent of my business every single year. So every year, 18 to 20 percent of my business is with China. This year 55 percent of my trade is with Latin America. We have strong businesses in Peru, Columbia, Chile. We’re heavily concentrated down in Brazil. I’m north/south port dominant. We get a lot of trade north/south but I want to increase market share of both east/west and that’s what Panama affords us, the opportunity to increase market share, if you will, on the all-water route.