by Mike Sharkey
The Jacksonville Port Authority (Jaxport) is poised to land its first Asian container company.
Port spokesman Robert Peek said he couldn’t divulge the Japanese company’s name since the details of the contract haven’t been finalized. However, Peek said he expects the deal will be announced at Jaxport’s Aug. 3 Board of Directors meeting.
“We are anticipating having it wrapped up by Aug. 3 which is why we have asked people to set the date aside. That will also allow the folks from Asia enough time to get here,” said Peek.
The Asian foray is big for the port for two reasons, according to Peek.
“This is the first time we have had container service directly between Jacksonville and Asia,” said Peek. “And, this will open a whole new market for container shipping through Jacksonville. Right now, two-thirds of our direct container business is to Latin America. This is a whole new region of the world where we are not directly trading. Asia is the biggest consumer market in the world.”
The deal will require Jaxport to build a new facility at Dames Point. Peek said the cost of the facility hasn’t been determined, but since the plan is to be in business with the Japanese company within a couple years, he expects construction to get underway before the end of the year.
In addition to entering a new market, the deal will allow Jaxport to dramatically expand its container ship business and, at the same time, provide area businesses the chance to ship their goods directly to Asia. Peek said Jaxport currently takes in about 725,000 containers (20-foot boxes that are either placed on the back of semi trucks or train cars) per year.
“After the deal we will easily pass the one million mark,” he said. “There are only about a dozen ports in the country that handle a million containers a year.”
Local businesses should benefit from the deal. Peek said many Jacksonville businesses ship their goods to Japan, China and other Asian markets, but those goods are first shipped by truck or train to Charleston or Savannah. The ability to directly ship should save those companies time and money.
“We have ships that sail directly between Jacksonville and Asia with cars on them, but we have never had container ships. These ships will come in with Japanese-manufactured goods such as food, clothes, TVs, computers and other goods,” said Peek, adding the other big objective will be to assure those containers are sent back full and not empty. “American companies will be able to send back raw materials and goods made in the United States. For example, Home Depot products are not coming through Jacksonville yet. This deal will allow those kinds of goods to be shipped directly through Jacksonville. This will allow Jacksonville companies to export directly to Asia.
“I’m not sure how many containers would go back full initially. But typically, liners do not like to export air. They like them full of freight in order to earn revenue.”
Peek said the concept of shipping directly to Asia was first brought up several years ago when Rick Ferrin took over as executive director of Jaxport.
“Two to three years ago, we started getting serious and set our sights on landing an Asian carrier,” said Peek. “This is an incredible opportunity to local businesses to export to Asia. Our primary role will be to provide a facility for the ships to dock that is efficient and secure. We will work with the local World Trade Center and John Freeman and the Chamber of Commerce to bring in business.”