Ports are “crucial to the economy,” Texas economist Ray Perryman wrote in 2017. “Ports generate substantial business activity through their operations, but those benefits are dwarfed by the huge importance of water transportation to other industries.” In this survey of 20 U.S. port cities, we look at various engines of economic development and see how they tie into the seaport.
Since 2009, the Tampa Bay Economic Development Council (EDC) has acted as the is the lead designated economic development agency for Hillsborough County as well as the cities of Tampa, Plant City and Temple Terrace. The EDC offers a variety of incentives (infrastructure, workforce training, targeted industry and special opportunities) and tax breaks for companies that create high-wage jobs in high-value industries. Companies can also apply for workforce training grants and tax exemption programs. In addition, the Tampa Bay EDC also aids those wishing to take advantage of real estate opportunities at Port Tampa Bay (the largest deepwater port in the state), Port Redwing and Port Ybor.
The Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC) serves as the administrator of that city’s Foreign Trade Zone (FTZ). The FTZ offers duty-free treatment for companies importing and exporting goods, and it saw nearly $20 billion worth of shipments in 2017. Much of that passed through the Port of Baltimore, which is one of the 10 busiest in the nation. According to the BDC, “With merchandise such as cars, paper and steel, 2017 saw the total FTZ international revenue rise from $44 million in 2016, to more than $396 million in 2017.” The BDC also provides a number of programs for entrepreneurs, small businesses and tax credits for supermarkets willing to open or renovate in targeted areas of the city.
MATAGORDA COUNTY, TEXAS
Matagorda County’s two shallow draft ports—Port of Bay City and Port of Balacios—are part of what makes the area’s location so desirable, according to the Matagorda County Economic Development Corp. (EDC). Both ports have nearby parcels available for long-term lease and development. Those wishing to do so may qualify for a host of incentives offered by the Matagorda County EDC, including tax abatements, an industrial revenue bond program, the Texas Enterprise fund for job creation, permit assistance, special discretionary loans, sales and use tax exemptions and various other training and capital funds.
VENTURA COUNTY, CALIFORNIA
Starting in 2019, the Port of Hueneme began a partnership with the Ventura County Economic Development Collaborative (EDC), Matter Labs and Naval Base Ventura County known as MAST (Maritime Advanced Systems & Technology). MAST is a laboratory at the port to incubate new technology and attract venture capital. “By leveraging the unique geographic, operational and environmental assets located at the Port of Hueneme, MAST invites entrepreneurs with an optimized solution a surrounding for sustained research, experimentation and test programs,” port officials say. This fits in perfectly with the EDC’s mission of promoting job growth through start-up assistance, special financing packages and workforce training programs.
The Savannah Economic Development Authority (SEDA) provides a dizzying array of tax incentives to companies wishing to locate or expand in Savannah. The organization’s Business Retention Action Team (BRAT) also offers workforce training, assistance on decreasing energy use, logistics and engineering information and even free pre-OSHA audits. Because the need for warehousing space to accommodate the ever-growing Port of Savannah was consuming so much land, in 2019 SEDA developed the 719-acre Savannah Manufacturing Center. To attract tech firms, the project includes a host of county and city tax exemptions, according to an Oct. 23, 2019, story in Worth.
Created in 2011, the Economic and Development Growth Engine (EDGE) for Memphis and Shelby County coordinates public resources and incentives for economic growth in those municipalities. EDGE manages Foreign Trade Zone 77, provides special business loans and tax incentives and also manages the Memphis Port Commission, which oversees the Port of Memphis. In November 2017, EDGE approved a $327,500 contract to develop a master plan for the port. Produced nearly a year later, that plan calls far a variety of infrastructure upgrades to ensure that the port will still be in use 20 to 50 years from now.
FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA
The Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance has long sought to strengthen and diversify that city’s economy through services and incentives aimed at helping companies expand or relocate there. The organization helps with business location, market research and workforce training. GFLA also supports various international trade initiatives, in hopes of increasing imports and exports in Fort Lauderdale. Port Everglades, which plays a key role in global trade initiatives and is the preeminent seaport in Florida in terms of revenue, was responsible for $34 billion in economic activity in 2018, according to the port authority.
NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK
“We are New Yorkers, working for New Yorkers,” say the officials who run the New York City Economic Development Corp. (NYCEDC). The NYCEDC prides itself on helping to grow and help companies become more sustainable. In 2015, the NYCEDC took a big step in doing this by signing a lease agreement with the City of New York to develop the old South Brooklyn Marine Terminal at Port NYC. Three years later, in May 2018, NYCEDC announced that their new Sustainable South Brooklyn Marine Terminal would serve as a new and major shipping hub that would create 250 near-term jobs, expand future growth and job creation and eliminate the need for 11,000 truck trips every year.
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
The Port of Los Angeles is the busiest seaport in the western hemisphere. As such, the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. (LAEDC) provides a number of services to ensure that the port—and those companies and workers who rely on it—continues to grow. It publishes a variety of reports each year on the city’s international trade outlook, assists companies in finding international trade opportunities, brings international investment into LA through its World Trade Center Los Angeles affiliate and helps ensure low-interest financing is available for projects.
WILMINGTON, NORTH CAROLINA
Since 1956, Wilmington Business Development (WBD) has worked to bring more companies to the region. It does this through market research, partnership development and technical assistance. There’s no better example of this than WBD’s recent partnership with Chesterfield LLC and the Port of Wilmington to construct a 425,000-square-foot, build-to-suit facility at the port, which will handle both imports and exports. As a marketing partner in the venture, WBD will promote the project and attract tenants.
PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND
Through a partnership with the U.S. Department of Commerce and the John H. Chafee Center for International Business, the Rhode Island Commerce Corp. (RICC) assists Providence companies in entering export markets. This allows companies to join trade missions, learn how to market themselves internationally and get specialized training. Though the Port of Providence (ProvPort) is relatively small, it has been a commercial seaport since the 1600s, which is why RICC partnered with the port in 2017 to implement a bond measure that would expand the port’s size and influence.
For the past three decades, the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama (EDPA) has worked to help companies grow in the state, and compete throughout the world. It offers assistance for start-ups on obtaining special credits, help with the various free trade zones around the state and information on the AlabamaSAVES loan program to make it easy to get energy efficient. EDPA also provides help for those companies wishing to compete globally—which is made vastly easier by the Port of Mobile, which is responsible for more than 134,000 jobs and more than $22 billion in economic impact.
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
The Port of New Orleans plays an outsized role in that region’s economic growth. It supports nearly 120,000 jobs and almost $30 billion in revenue, according to an April 15, 2019, article in Biz New Orleans. Greater New Orleans, Inc. (GNO), which has long assisted companies in the region that wish to grow or compete internationally, recognizes that New Orleans’ growth simply couldn’t happen without the port. “In recent years, the Port of New Orleans has emerged as not only a record-breaking cargo and cruise facility, but remains an economic development powerhouse,” said GNO President Michael Hecht in the Biz New Orleans article. “Thanks to the Port’s leadership and partnership, New Orleans is well on its way to reclaiming its economic and maritime preeminence.”
The East Bay Economic Development Alliance (EDA) has been assisting the Port of Oakland (which today handles 99 percent of the containerized goods that move through Northern California) to grow for the past three decades. The EDA supported the port’s need to dredge the harbor in 1991 and again in 2009, meeting with conservationists, shipping interests and others to build a consensus. In 2003, the EDA also met with stakeholders to resolve the transportation impacts created by the port’s growth. The result was a recommendation to move the transportation and distribution facilities that support the port.
The Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance (EDA) has long assisted both domestic and international firms wishing to invest in the Norfolk area. The EDA provides all manner of services and assistance in finding a location, banking, obtaining permits, staffing and auditing. The EDA can also provide help for those companies wishing to take advantage of the three lucrative tax incentives offered by the State of Virginia to firms that use the Port of Norfolk: the Port Volume Increase Tax Credit, Barge and Rail Use Tax Credit and International Trade Facility Tax Credit.
Since 1992, companies wishing to locate or expand in Brownsville have been able to call upon the services of the Brownsville Economic Development Corp. (BEDC). The BEDC offers qualifying firms job creation incentives that range from $2,000 to $10,000 per each job created. Bringing together business leaders, location consulting and permit assistance are some of the other services the BEDC offers to companies in Brownsville. Critical to the city is the Port of Brownsville, the only deepwater port on the U.S./Mexico border, which the port authority said was responsible for $3 billion in economic activity in 2018.
The Economic Development Council (EDC) of South Miami-Dade formed in 1993, following the destruction wrought by Hurricane Andrew. In addition to assisting companies in moving to Miami or expanding their current location, the EDC provides firms with market information as well as assistance in qualifying for tax incentives. Another key role of the EDC is focusing on “the betterment of any deficiency in the regional infrastructure which is a hindrance to economic vitality.” PortMiami, one of the most important elements in the Miami economy, impacts more than 334,000 jobs and supports about $43 billion in overall economic activity.
Job creation in Northeast Ohio has been at the forefront of the Greater Cleveland Partnership (GCP) since its founding in 2004. The organization advocates for Cleveland businesses, while also providing them with vital assistance in getting access to capital, securing tax incentives and finding and retaining staff. In 2018, the GCP helped local companies create nearly 2,000 jobs, while retaining more than 12,000. The Port of Cleveland, which is the hub of about $3.5 billion in economic activity for the region, supports nearly 20,000 jobs.
The Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. (PIDC) has leveraged more than $25 billion in investment and helped create hundreds of thousands of jobs since its founding in 1958. It manages commercial and industrial real estate, delivers grant funding for development projects, provides resources for companies located in underserved, low-income parts of the city and sponsors investment opportunities in projects that qualify for the U.S. Immigration Investor Program. PhilaPort has been central to the growth of Philadelphia, returning more than $70 million in revenue to the city and providing more than 10,000 jobs.
ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI
It’s remarkable just how much the STL Partnership accomplishes in the name of economic development. The organization manages opportunity zones to encourage urban investment, provides workforce development, helps companies engage on the global market, provides tax incentives and loan assistance, runs innovation centers for startups and assists companies with site selection. The STL Partnership and the St. Louis County Port Authority have been partners since the Mississippi River flood of 1993. Then, they joined to develop the Lemay Comprehensive Plan, which helped redevelop the old National Lead site and establish a community reinvestment fund.