by Joel Addington
A delegation of five officials from the Chinese city of Ningbo signed a friendship agreement with Jacksonville city officials Monday afternoon, bringing the two port cities one step closer to becoming full-fledged partners in the international exchange program Sister Cities International.
If relations between the two cities prosper, Ningbo could become Jacksonville’s seventh sister city. It’s now the third Chinese city with which Jacksonville has friendship agreements.
“We can cooperate in so many fields,” said Meng Qinghia of the Ningbo delegation after a presentation on the Jacksonville Port Authority. “There is the port, of course, but there are so many things we can share in cultural and educational exchange. We have 14 universities in Ningbo and you have many universities also.”
But as the second largest port city in China and the fifth largest in the world, Port Authority officials know that Ningbo could be a valuable partner in growing trade with Asian markets, an effort already well underway.
With the completion of two new Asian container ship terminals expected in the next four years – one serving Japan-based Mitsui O.S.K. Lines and another for Korea’s Hanjin Shipping Co. – the port will more than triple the number of containers it handles from 800,000 units to between 3 and 4 million units, said Roy Schleicher, the Port Authority’s senior director of trade development and marketing.
The Port Authority is currently negotiating a contract with Hanjin for construction of a $360-million terminal, most of which will be funded by the Korean company.
“They’re building it and we’ll lease it to them,” said Port Authority Director of Communications and Public Relations Nancy Rubin. “That’s how badly they want it. They’ve really sent a message to the industry that Jacksonville is the place to be.”
The Mitsui terminal, however, will be built by the Port Authority and leased to the Japanese company. That $220 million project is expected to create close to 6,000 new jobs and offer local businesses the ability to export directly to Asia.
“You can see how important Asian trade is to us,” Schleicher told the Ningbo delegation during the presentation at the Port Authority’s offices on Talleyrand Road, just before a tour of the Blount Island Terminal.
He also talked about the three interstate highways that intersect in Jacksonville and how much time that saves when transporting foreign goods to the Southeast and Midwest.
“It’s less than two hours to rail from Jacksonville to Chicago,” said Schleicher. “It takes over four days if you go to (the port of) Norfolk.”
He didn’t leave out that Florida was a right to work state either, “which means unions here have very little power,” he told the delegates. “Unlike New York or Los Angeles, we have a mix of (union and non-union) labor.”
And although Ningbo city officials are not the ones who sign shipping contracts, officials here know they can carry the message of what Jacksonville has to offer back home.
“It’s about name recognition,” said Rubin. “They’ll know where we are and what we have and that could lead to business opportunities for Jaxport.”
The friendship agreement signed Monday and the sister city status that may follow could also help the Port Authority learn how to handle the massive growth in trading volume expected in coming years from Asian markets.
“We’re much smaller than you,” Schleicher told the delegates. “But we hope to be as big as you one day.”