Photo: Meredith Fordham Hughes
Port push: More distribution centers are needed
Florida's 15 ports want the state's help in attracting distribution centers to boost cargo business.
In the 1990s, Georgia pushed to make the Port of Savannah a distribution hub for major retailers, offering a variety of tax credits and incentives. By 2007, Home Depot, Walmart and Target had distribution centers tied to the port.
Between 2000 and 2013, containerized cargo at Savannah more than tripled to about 3 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs), making it the second-largest Atlantic container port after New York/New Jersey.
In the process, Savannah also solidified its reputation as a commercial gateway to Florida. In 2013, Savannah’s port handled nearly 12% of the containerized cargo destined for Florida from northern Europe and 8% from southeast Asia, according to a report commissioned by the Florida Ports Council. Additionally, about 30% of Asian imports into Florida arrived via train or truck from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in California.
All told, more than 840,000 TEUs a year are imported into Florida from non- Florida ports or end up here after being routed through distribution centers in georgia, Louisiana and Texas. Likewise, more than 300,000 units of container exports originate in Florida but use ports outside the state.
The Florida Ports Council now is seeking state support for an advertising effort aimed at luring cargo-shipping companies from other U.S. ports. It’s calling on lawmakers to cut red tape and create new incentives programs to attract both import distribution centers and export-oriented manufacturing facilities.
While Florida already has some distribution centers along the I-4 corridor and in Jacksonville, they tend to be smaller and more regional than import-based facilities elsewhere. According to the report, “The larger, more important distribution centers are in Georgia (Atlanta and Savannah) and Texas (Houston and Dallas).”
To start, Florida should look at what other states in the Southeast offer to global distribution prospects, including land, tax breaks, expedited permitting and training assistance, says Doug Wheeler, president and CEO of the Florida Ports Council. “It could level the playing field a little bit,” he says.
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