The Center Square
By John Haughey
July 30, 2021
(The Center Square) – Florida saw a $14.1 billion decline in its $117 billion maritime trade industry as cargo tonnage moving through its 15 seaports fell by 8.4%, with exports down 20% and imports down 13.8%, during pandemic-skewered 2020.
But according to a report published Tuesday, Florida’s seaports – where nearly 40% of U.S.-manufactured good are exported, supporting 900,000 jobs nationwide – are poised for a robust rebound in the “emerging post-pandemic world.”
“Most of the declines in 2020 occurred during the first six months of the year at the height of uncertainty surrounding COVID-19,” the Florida Seaports Transportation & Economic Development Council (FSTED) maintains in its 110-page report, “Seaport Mission Plan: Navigating Beyond the Pandemic,” an annual update required by lawmakers when they created the council in 1990.
“Fall 2020 saw robust recovery in many sectors,” the report states. “2021 is expected to see a near complete recovery in terms both of cargo volume and cargo value as post-pandemic markets and supply chains regain stability and consumer confidence returns in line with the relaxing of economic constraints.”
Cargo operations are rebounding, especially bulkbreak cargo, a trend that should accelerate, the report forecasts, although Florida’s cruise-line industry’s recovery may lag behind other sectors.
“Florida’s 158,992 cruise-related jobs, and $8.1 billion in economic activity were severely impacted” by the pandemic, which ships pier-side since March 2020.
Most operators resume cruises in August, but the report states it may take “a few years” to return to 2019 numbers when 18.3 million passengers cruised out of Florida ports.
Nevertheless, “the fundamentals of the industry remain strong,” the report said, noting a “combination of pent-up demand and widespread vaccinations” could accelerate recovery.
Although overall Florida maritime trade declined by 16.1% in 2020, the report notes cargo volumes actually increased in three of the 15 ports — up 54.5% at Port Manatee, 49.9% at Port Tampa Bay, 33.5% at Port Panama City.
Japan was Florida’s top trade partner in 2020, edging out China for the second straight year, according to the report, which cites South/Central America and Caribbean ports as most-linked to Florida in maritime trade.
Breakbulk cargo increased 8.8% to 7.8 million tons in 2020. Breakbulk shipping transports goods that cannot fit in standard-sized shipping containers, such as vehicles, steel girders, structural steel, manufacturing and construction equipment.
FSTED notes more than $3.3 billion in capital improvements are planned for Florida ports the next five years with 70.7% – $2.3 billion – tabbed for Atlantic coast seaports.
The capital plan is essentially the 2020-24 Five-Year Seaport Mission Plan developed by the Florida Ports Council (FPC), which advocates on behalf of port managers and businesses.
According to a Martin Associates’ study published last September by the FPC, state seaports were projected to incur $23 billion in “lost” economic activity. resulting in the loss of 170,000 jobs nationwide in 2020.
“Florida’s 15 seaports are resilient, and we expect to see a near complete recovery in 2021,” said Michael Rubin, FSTED program administrator who was named FPC President/CEO this month. “With $3.3 billion in capital improvements at Florida’s seaports identified over the next five years, we expect our ports to continue playing a leading role in job creation and economic growth.”
According to the Florida Chamber of Commerce, more than 37% U.S,-made exports head overseas from Florida. More than 6,000 Florida companies export more than $6.5 billion in goods to more than 170 countries, creating 2.5 million indirect jobs across the world – more than 900,000 in the U.S. – while directly employing nearly 66,000 Floridians, the chamber states.