Major logistics centers vital to leverage growth at Port of Miami, Miami International Airport
By Zachary Fagenson
Work on the $1 billion tunnel connecting Dodge Island to regional highways is underway. This summer, work is to begin on a rail line reconnecting the Port of Miami to the Hialeah Rail Yard, and dredging in one of its channels is to begin in coming months.
"What is the next step?" port Director Bill Johnson asked at a logistic luncheon during the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce's annual goals conference. "It's leveraging these port improvements; it's what we do with these billions and billions of investments."
Squeezing the most out of those projects, Mr. Johnson and others said, will involve bringing major logistics centers to South Florida so the massive ships that will be coming through a revamped Panama Canal in 2014 have a reason to stop in Miami.
The port and partner Florida East Coast Railway are to soon begin marketing jointly to make the case for Miami to the world's largest shippers.
The region's business community, Mr. Johnson said, needs to focus on "the box," or the individual cargo container.
"The objective is to double the amount of cargo activity," he said. The port in 2010 saw about 800,000 20-foot equivalent units, an industry measurement. "By 2020, in literally less than nine years, the Port of Miami should be double" that, he said.
As he updated the audience on the status of ongoing work at the port, Mr. Johnson also laid out what he thinks needs to be done to boost trade volume. Those steps include "moving the box efficiently" via rail, logistics centers that "crack the box," advanced manufacturing to fill it and establishing partnerships with business in Asia to boost US exports, sourced from Miami.
The "ability to receive the largest container ships in the world," Mr. Johnson said, "is what the largest shippers in the world want. It's what Wal-Mart and Target are demanding."
It's those big box retailers that appear to be the keystone of the entire international trade framework Mr. Johnson and others envision for South Florida.
Bringing them here, however, appears to be a "which comes first" question.
"Beneficial cargo owners — the Targets, the Best Buys, the JCPenneys — they need to locate to South Florida if Bill is going to have any success at getting these ocean carriers," said Husein Cumber, executive vice president for corporate development at Florida East Coast Railway, which owns the 351-mile track that runs up Florida's East Coast. "We have to be aggressive on the warehouse distribution side.
"It's where [the Port of] Savannah did really well. They targeted beneficial cargo owners, got them to locate in Savannah and ocean carriers followed them," he added.
To that end, the railway and the port are looking to combining marketing dollars in coming months to bring those companies' operations to South Florida.
Mr. Cumber couldn't pinpoint how much would be spent, or where, but said the two will start looking to get noticed by the industry in the fourth quarter of 2011 and the first three quarters of 2012, prior to the reopening of the rail line connecting the port to the railway's Hialeah yard.
"We need to be coordinated, and the best way to be coordinated is to be going to conferences, getting booths at trade shows [and] buying ads in the right shippers' magazines," Mr. Cumber said.
The final piece of the puzzle, Miami International Airport, brought to light added factors that may also play a big role in the region's future as a global trade hub.
"We are really having challenges as a nation [with] the hassle factor perceived by foreign countries," said airport Deputy Director Miguel Southwell. "Panama as well as the Dominican Republic is [trying to] capitalize on that hassle factor and encourage airlines and shippers to bypass Miami and establish hubs.
"At home, we face threats from Atlanta and Houston," he added.
Despite the challenges the region faces, like larger planes with longer ranges that could cut Miami out of Asia-Latin America trade, Mr. Southwell said there's plenty to be optimistic about.
"The 325 freight forwarders and shippers that surround the airport makes this such an inviting place to do business and to make friends," he said. "We have many threats before us, but I believe that we're well positioned through both the tangible and intangible things we have to remain a competitive logistics hub."
Find valuable, local Miami business and community news that you'll find nowhere else. Read all of Miami Today. See if you qualify for print subscription delivery or subscribe now to e-Miami Today. and read the entire issue of Miami Today online and receive access to over five years of archived issues.