Sen. Marco Rubio tours JaxPort, discusses supply chain issues

Partners of JaxPort spoke during roundtable about biggest challenges they’re facing

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio was in Jacksonville on Monday, and the big topics were supply chain issues, high gas prices, inflation and finding qualified truck drivers.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio was in Jacksonville on Monday, and the big topics were supply chain issues, high gas prices, inflation and finding qualified truck drivers.

Rubio, R-Florida, was at the Jacksonville Port Authority, discussing its biggest challenges.

“We obviously want to learn more about, not just the challenges you face to continue what you’re doing now, but what are the opportunities for growth, what is the strategic vision, so we can figure out how we can plug into that and get some answers and some solutions,” Rubio said.

Rubio said COVID-19 exposed what he calls the back of the house of the American economy, saying America was forced to learn how to overcome supply chain issues.

Before attending a roundtable, Rubio toured the JaxPort facility, which ships to 140 ports in 70 different countries. JaxPort is responsible for an estimated $31 billion in economic impact and was recently able to expand its reach after deepening the harbor to accommodate larger ships.

“The 47-foot depth was a game changer for SSA to be able to reach out to the various lines that were stuck on the West Coast or up and down the East Coast at times,” said Vivian Patterson, with SSA Marine.

Patterson told Rubio that talks are now underway to raise the wires across the St. Johns River — which she says would only increase the desirability of Jacksonville to various steamship lines that in turn can bring in larger vessels.

″The impact that is going to have obviously is to strengthen our labor force, strengthen the economy, the city of Jacksonville and surrounding areas,” Patterson said.

The roundtable was also an opportunity for partners of JaxPort to talk about the biggest challenges they are facing.

“We are struggling with labor as it relates to transportation. Right now there is a shortage of truck drivers,” said Casey Gunnel, with Southeast Toyota. “Our partners are struggling with finding qualified candidates that want to drive. It’s not a component of how much we pay them.”

Gunnel told Rubio that despite escalating the wages for truck drivers, the pool of qualified drivers remains small. He said his railroad partners are also experiencing struggles with labor, which is impacting shipments from plants.

“You look at where we are right now, we are at about, levels going back about five to six years in volume,” Gunnel said.

After hearing from various leaders in the shipping industry, Rubio had this to say about how existing challenges can instead be turned into opportunities: “There are also real exciting opportunities. I don’t know of any other port facility in America better positioned for the direction the 21st century is going than JaxPort, and what that’s going to mean economically for the state and Northeast Florida is phenomenal. And so it’s great to see that today to go back and figure out more ways that we can be helpful in accelerating that process.”

Rubio met with executives from Crowley, JAXUSA, Memorial Hospital, TOTE Maritime and Evans Delivery.

About the Author:

Tarik anchors the 4, 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. weekday newscasts and reports with the I-TEAM.