Florida ports want help to lure shipping firms

BY JIM TURNER
The News Service of Florida


TALLAHASSEE — The top lobbying group for Florida's seaports wants the state to establish a marketing campaign to help lure cargo-shipping companies from major ports in other areas of the country.

A study released this week by the Florida Ports Council calls for lawmakers to create an advertising effort to entice shipping firms to move cargo through the Sunshine State rather than ports in Savannah, Ga., Houston, New York or even Los Angeles.

The council's study on global-trade opportunities and challenges also wants lawmakers to create incentive programs to attract import-distribution centers as well as export-oriented manufacturing companies.

In addition, with the legislative session starting March 3, the study urges lawmakers to remove regulations that slow shipping and to keep money flowing for the ports.

"Florida has improved its position as the global pier for the U.S. and is one of the leading states for import and export of goods," the report said. "However, in this era of global competition for jobs and tax revenues, Florida's ports must continue to build a competitive logistics infrastructure."

Any marketing plan would have to challenge the ports in New York and Charleston, S.C., which are the key non-Florida ports used to bring imports to Florida from Europe, the report said.

Ports in Houston, Savannah, New York and Charleston are major players used by Florida exporters to South America. And ports in Los Angeles, Long Beach and Savannah are top non-Florida ports that Florida importers use for Asian cargo.

No estimate has been made on the cost of such a marketing effort.

"The study has identified the issues. Now we have to build a marketing program and go after it," said Florida Ports Council Chairman Val Schwec, the director of the Port of Fernandina. "And it won't be easy, because other states are trying to keep it or add to theirs."

It remains to be seen how lawmakers will respond.

House Transportation & Ports Chairman Pat Rooney, R-West Palm Beach, said lawmakers are "committed to continuing their efforts to capture more cargo activity and increase job opportunities for Floridians."

Rooney has toured a number of the state's ports, and his subcommittee will take a field trip in March to the Port of Jacksonville, known as JaxPort.

Bill Johnson, the incoming chief executive officer of Enterprise Florida, the state's economic development arm, pointed to a work slowdown on the West Coast because of labor negotiations as an example of an issue Florida can use in its campaign.