JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It was a full house Tuesday to hear about the future of shipping in Jacksonville, as JaxPort leaders spoke about their progress to make the port an even bigger operation.
More than 450 people gathered at the Hyatt Regency downtown for the State of the Port, hosted by the Propeller Club. The annual meeting of lawmakers, business leaders and trade executives centered around a dredging project.
Last week, the federal government earmarked $93 million to finish the deepening job, which would pave the way for bigger cargo ships.
“We are here to stay and that’s the message,” said Eric Green, JaxPort’s CEO. “We are growing, and we will continue to grow.”
JaxPort is in the middle of its largest growth project ever: A $394 million dollar overhaul to bring in more ships and bigger business.
The plan, already underway, includes deepening the harbor from 40 to 47 feet, making it larger for international trade cargo ships to come and go.
“We are ready to go and become the logistics hub for the southeast seaport,” said 4th District of Florida Congressman John Rutherford. He was one of the speakers, boasting about the progress and impact of the port.
“As JaxPort continues to grow, as we bring these distribution centers into Jacksonville. You’re going to see all kinds of opportunities,” Rutherford told News4Jax.
By the numbers, 2019 was a big year. According to JaxPort, 696,000 cars came through Jacksonville on cargo ships. That’s the second highest number at any port in the nation.
About 26,000 port-related jobs exist in Northeast Florida, with an average salary of $70,500 a year.
Overall, the port’s leadership claims it brings $31.1 billion in annual economic output for Florida. JaxPort operates with a $67,500,000 budget yearly.
JaxPort is trying to attract a second cruise ship, Green said. He did not go into details but said it could be in the near future. He noted JaxPort is already renovating the cruise passenger terminal, to make it a better experience. Last year, 195,000 cruise passengers passed through.
“I think with the completion of the dredging in a couple years, and the jobs created out there, it’s such an economic engine for Jacksonville,” said City Council member Ron Salem, the JaxPort liaison.
The project hasn’t come without controversy. It is a competition with other ports, like Savannah, which are also getting federal funding and aiming projects at bringing in more business. The St. Johns Riverkeeper organization, a river watchdog group, has filed a lawsuit opposing the dredge, concerned about the environmental impact. JaxPort’s CEO is standing firm.
“Ten years of studying has gone into this project,” Green noted. “I will tell you, we are a port that’s environmentally sensitive.”
The dredge is expected to be finished by 2023. Officials said the project, overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, would meet a halfway point by the end of 2020.