Posted: 2:14 pm Tuesday, October 15th, 2013
By Jeff Ostrowski
The Florida Chamber Foundation estimates that the expansion of the Panama Canal will create 150,000 trade and logistics jobs in the state over five years. Logistics experts say that estimate is optimistic.
“The numbers are generally inflated,” K.C. Conway, chief economist at commercial real estate brokerage Colliers International, tells me. “The reality is there are going to be some big disappointments.”
For now, most imports to the United States arrive at Pacific Coast ports, then travel by train or truck to the rest of the country. With the Panama Canal’s long-anticipated expansion scheduled for completion next year, the Florida Chamber sees the Port of Miami grabbing a big chunk of imports that will be redirected to Atlantic ports.
Conway sees a couple of reasons the job impact for Florida will be muted:
Intense competition from other ports. Companies looking to ship goods to the eastern half of the country will send their containers past Miami and up the coast. “The big shippers are primarily aligning themselves with Norfolk, Baltimore and Charleston,” Conway said.
Robots are taking over the heavy lifting. The Port of Miami certainly stands to see higher cargo volumes as a result of the Panama Canal widening — but increasing automation over the past decade will mute the job gains. “A lot of this is automated,” Conway said. “That’s a big fallacy in a lot of these economic forecasts. A lot of these Ph.D.s have been too lazy to go back and look at labor trends. None of them have adjusted their models for what’s really going on in distribution.”
Conway isn’t the only skeptic. Logistics expert Tim Feemster and Greater Houston Port Bureau President Bill Diehl voiced similar questions.
Even so, Gov. Rick Scott has echoed the Florida Chamber’s predictions about trade-induced job growth. The governor is scheduled to speak tomorrow at the American Association of Port Authorities conference in Orlando.
About the Author
Occupation: Reporter My sports/favorite activities: I drop everything to surf. When there are no waves (which is often in South Florida), I cycle, run, swim and lift weights. Old age has forced me to retire from hoops, softball and Ultimate Frisbee. Goal: Stay in shape, stay uninjured, complete a sprint triathlon and maybe run a 5K in under 20 minutes again. When I'm not training: I live in Lake Worth with my wife and two children.