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- 2009 - January - 29th -

Coalition aims to strengthen state’s ports

Mike Sharkey

Several of the state’s top port directors met in Jacksonville Wednesday for the purpose of forming a coalition that will allow the ports as a group to lobby the Legislature for funding and continue to be one of the state’s top economic engines.

The Florida Maritime Leadership Coalition is a virtual entity headed by executive director Martha Harbin, who is based in Tallahassee. Locally, the organization is represented by John Finotti of Access PR. Harbin called the state’s ports the “unsung heroes of Florida’s economy” and the numbers back up that claim. Despite getting only $15 million from the Florida Department of Transportation — or 2 percent of the FDOT budget — last year, the state’s 14 deepwater ports provided more than 350,000 jobs and contributed more than $74 billion to the state’s economy.

According to Jacksonville Port Authority Executive Director Rick Ferrin, the port accounts for 47,000 jobs regionally and has annual economic impact of $3 billion. In two years when the TraPac and Hanjin terminals are both operating — TraPac opened a couple of weeks ago — those numbers will jump to 75,000 jobs with an impact of $5 billion to $6 billion annually.

“Support is absolutely vital,” said Ferrin, referring to the need for the State Legislature to help fund infrastructure at ports all over the state. “Nothing is done inexpensively. That’s why the flow of capital and the availability of capital is vital.

“An investment of $1 pays back six-fold. It’s prudent to invest in the ports so when the world economy comes back, we are in position to take advantage of that.”

Harbin said the coalition will represent the ports in matters relating to funding and infrastructure improvements, especially when Legislative approval is needed for those funds. She said the coalition doesn’t represent any particular segment of the maritime industry, but rather the industry as a whole.

“We are pleased with the number of maritime sectors that have said they will participate,” she said.

In addition to Ferrin, Port Canaveral Executive Director Stan Payne and Port Everglades Executive Director Phil Allen both attended Wednesday’s announcement. Both touted the need for the state to invest in its ports in an effort to deter business from going to out-of-state ports and assure Florida’s ports are ready for the future, a future that includes a widened Panama Canal in 2014 and the larger cargo ships that will likely stop in Florida.

“Ports are huge economic engines and Florida has 14 of those engines,” said Payne. “More than just engines, they generate jobs and they need to be rebuilt and enlarged and, as a result, they will generate more jobs.

“A unified voice is necessary for that growth and the economic livelihood of the state.”

Allen stressed the importance of maintaining Florida’s ports and the jobs and taxes they generate. He said 70 percent of the goods consumed by Floridians comes through Florida ports. Unless infrastructure funds are increased and costs — particularly the duplicity of identification badges, which is required only in Florida — Allen says some of those goods may start coming through Ports in Georgia and South Carolina.

“Ports are vital elements of the state’s economy, particularly in these days,” said Allen. “There are $500 million in projects at the state’s ports ready to go today. Florida’s ports have delivered in the past and continue to be vital to the future.”

State Sen. Stephen Wise said the state’s ports are its “best kept secret” adding with so many new and inexperienced members of the State Legislature preparing for the next legislative session which begins in March, it’s important for the lawmaking body as a whole to understand and appreciate the value of the ports to the economy.

“What you folks are doing is marvelous,” said Wise. “The Legislature needs to be trained on what’s going on in the maritime industry.”

State Sen. Tony Hill — a former longshoreman — said forming such a coalition will send a strong message to lawmakers.

“When you speak as one voice, you get our attention in Tallahassee,” said Hill. “This is the kind of nucleus that’s needed. We need to talk about how to create jobs, not cuts.”

Hill said he will work to eliminate the two-badge system in place and also help with funding issues. He also said the White House may be able to help.

“I can tell you, President Obama is very interested in our ports,” said Hill, adding Obama visited Jacksonville three times on the campaign trail and each time made note of the river and the port.

msharkey@baileypub.com

356-2466

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