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No (ok, just a few) TEUs is Bad News

June 7, 2011

This St. Pete Times article about container traffic at ports is very interesting.  First, we have to point out, Tampasphere is not sure why there is an article in the Times about whether Miami can succeed in becoming a competitor to New York or Savannah in container traffic.  Leaving that oddity aside, the article (and graphic, which does not appear to be online – which is a shame) points out some very interesting things.  So Tampasphere will provide you with what the Times graphic told us:

2010 container volume, Major East Coast ports (in terms of TEUs)

(source American Association of Port Authorities)


New York/New Jersey – 5,292,025

Savannah – 2,825,179

Norfolk (Hampton Roads) – 1,895,017

Charleston – 1,364,504

Jacksonville – 857,374

Miami – 847,249

Port Everglades – 793,227

Tampa – 44,877

The first thing that strikes Tampasphere is the shockingly small container business that Tampa does – the price of the complacency (and reliance on bulk cargo) causing Tampa’s extremely late start in the container business (Tampasphere would like to acknowledge that the small container business at the port is a vast improvement over past port policies that completely ignored containers. Tampasphere really wonders why Tampa Bay is so often playing catch-up and not out front leading).  Tampasphere does not expect to be New York, or even Savannah, but Tampa is nowhere close even to other Florida ports.

The article points out something that is relevant to the Florida numbers – Florida is not central to delivery of goods to national and southeastern distribution centers like Atlanta.  Tampasphere gets that point, but that point also raises the question of why the Miami area ports (Miami and Everglades – at the end on the peninsula) together handle about twice as much container cargo as Jacksonville, which is farther north and closer to other markets.  It also ignores the point that Tampa handles about a twentieth of the containers of any of those three ports.

The other thing Tampasphere noticed is that the article said that:

In fact, more than half of the Florida-bound containers from Asia enter the country at ports outside Florida.

Contributing to that problem: Once goods arrive at a Florida port, their movement further inland is often constrained by poor road connections and limited rail access. Miami has secured grants for on-dock rail and is working to connect to the Florida East Coast Railway, said assistant port director Kevin Lynskey.

So even without poaching containers from other Florida ports, there is a good amount of potential business to be developed.  The article also noted that:

A port’s container traffic is driven by the size of its regional consumer market, unless containers can easily be moved inland to other markets.

But at the southern tip of the state, ports in Miami and Fort Lauderdale are too far from rail lines to supply the rest of Florida and the Southeast, Poole said.

Ok, so look at a map of Florida

Tampa looks to be the closest port to the Panama Canal (ok Manatee but Tampasphere thinks of them together, regionally).  It is also just about in the center of the state (even the port has this on its website “EXPANDING CONTAINER GATEWAY TO FLORIDA AND THE SOUTHEAST” – not exactly our point, but it is a start – the map is a little small and oddly not showing the distance to any other cities in Florida ) – so, if it has decent transportation links, is should be ideal for containers bound for Florida that are going elsewhere now, like this nice graphic from the Port of Tampa website shows:

but . . .

Well, there is the other note in the article, speaking of the New Panamax ships:

Those ships could not navigate the 43-foot-deep shipping channel to the Port of Tampa, and its fledgling container operation could not handle that many boxes at one time.

In fact, it will take only a few new Panamax ships to hold the same number of containers that Tampa handled all last year. Tampasphere is not really sure what use geography, demographics and nice website graphics are if the port cannot handle the ships that have the containers on them.

Once again – business is out there for the taking but where is the plan to get it?

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