When I was driving back to Jacksonville recently, I saw the sign at the county line that reads "Logistics Center of America."
It seems strange just sitting there where Baker County meets Duval County. I suspect the sign is seldom noticed and, when it is, I wonder if people know what the term means.
The sign and its message represent the passion of Jacksonville attorney George Gabel.
For more than 15 years, Gabel has told anyone who will listen that Jacksonville is positioned to be the center of America when it involves moving products from one place to another.
Part visionary, part economic missionary and a 100 percent unabashed ambassador for Jacksonville, Gabel has traveled the nation and the world in search of commerce that will create jobs here.
He is a highly successful media and maritime lawyer at Holland & Knight and has had a dream of making Jacksonville an international city. He's done so from the Murray Hill neighborhood where he was raised to far-flung places in Europe and Asia.
As Gabel has long declared, Jacksonville is becoming known by international companies and references that we have more than 80 companies in town that represent more than 20 different countries.
He says, "Jacksonville is a sophisticated business community with Southern hospitality."
Jacksonville is in Gabel's blood and he continues to maintain a quixotic zeal for his hometown.
If you just say it often enough, it will come true, Gabel loves to proclaim.
So he says it over and over: "Jacksonville is the logistics center of America."
We have Interstate 95 that connects us with the Northeast and I-10 that is the pathway to the west.
Jacksonville is the headquarters of Class 1 railroad CSX, and Norfolk Southern and Florida East Coast also run trains in and out of Jacksonville, ensuring goods moved by rail can travel anywhere from here.
Jacksonville's port is one of the largest commercial cargo ports on the Atlantic Coast and is competitive. Imported and exported goods from more than 100 countries are shipped through our port every year.
It's estimated that more than 65,000 workers in Northeast Florida are directly linked to the port's maritime operations.
Many believe — starting with Gabel — the port's potential has not yet been tapped.
He points out that a thousand or so trucks currently leave the port every day.
In the future, Gabel believes the number could approach 10,000 trucks a day.
Yet, there are obstacles to overcome.
Mile Point, where the Intracoastal Waterway meets the St. Johns River, has long been a navigational hazard and a barrier to port growth because of the strong currents that threaten large container ships.
Currently, ships can only come in to the port at high tide. That's four hours in the day and four hours at night, which causes long delays for large cargo-container ships.
It's a restriction comparable to competing with one arm tied behind our back — but the problem is scheduled to be fixed.
Tired of waiting on Congress to act, Gov. Rick Scott in mid-January announced the state will contribute $36 million for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to design and construct the $38 million project that will free up access to port terminals, saving shippers time and money. The Jacksonville Port Authority will contribute the $2 million difference as a match.
How important is the project to Jacksonville?
Estimates are that once completed, the Mile Point project will create as many as 3,000 new port-related jobs.
The recent bad news that JaxPort failed to receive federal backing to dredge the river channel another 10 feet to a depth of 50 feet is what led me to think about Gabel.
Many people believe the 50 foot depth is critical to the port's future. Instead, we're going to have to settle for a 47-foot depth.
When the Panama Canal expansion is completed, a deeper harbor will permit jumbo-sized ships from China and other locations to dock. Without the 50-foot depth, conventional wisdom is that Jacksonville's port will not be as competitive.
While I know he is deeply disappointed the 50-foot depth is not on the horizon, Gabel always has been practical about the channel-deepening project.
He's known it was an expensive and uphill battle.
In the meantime, Gabel has suggested the JaxPort offer incentives to lure product-laden cargo ships here, and build warehouses where companies can send their goods.
No matter, one thing is for sure.
As long as he's able and someone will listen, you can count on George Gabel being out there, talking up Jacksonville and promoting Jacksonville's global attractiveness as the "Logistics Center of America."