The Sunshine State is strategically positioned for increased trade, even as global supply chains undergo dramatic changes. Here’s how two of its ports are supporting Florida’s ambitions and making bold moves.
What is it about Florida that makes the state an ideal spot to plant or expand a business? In terms of both logistics and economic development, Florida is consistently on the sunny side of the street.
And the state forecast is not about to change.
The Florida Chamber Foundation’s recently released Florida Trade & Logistics 2030 Study indicates the Sunshine State’s leadership in trade, logistics, and export-oriented manufacturing is on course to increase even as global supply chains undergo dramatic changes.
“Florida has the perfect location given new trading routes, available capacity to move more goods, make more goods, and multiply these impacts throughout the economy,” says Florida Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Mark Wilson.
Strategies to expand manufacturing, logistics, trade, and rural economic growth align with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ goal to establish Florida as the 10th largest global economy by 2030, Wilson says. The state currently ranks number 15, up from 17 five years ago.
“Florida has long benefited from a strategic location close to the intersection of north/south and east/west trade lanes, a large number of seaports and airports, world-class research universities and technical colleges, and a large consuming population of both residents and visitors,” Wilson points out.
“Florida maintains a dominant share of U.S. trade with Latin American and Caribbean nations, has experienced significant growth in e-commerce and distribution, and is a recognized global leader in specific manufacturing industries like aerospace and food and beverage,” he adds.
State officials and business leaders have even greater ambitions. “As global supply chains change, Florida plans to be a big winner,” Wilson says. The state has made significant strategic investments in its workforce and infrastructure over the past decade, expanding capacity at its seaports and airports and proactively building its talent pipeline.
As a result, Wilson says, several Florida ports were able to accommodate port volume increases of 10% or more during 2021’s global supply chain disruptions. Meanwhile, Miami International Airport has become one of the world’s busiest freight airports, surpassing those in France, Japan, and Singapore.
The state’s business profile is built on a foundation of solid statistics:
- 5 deep-water ports
- 20 commercial airports
- 3 spaceports and 8 launch sites
- 21 foreign trade zones
- 37 consulates-general
- More than 1 million trade, logistics, and manufacturing jobs in 2020.
- More than 52,000 trade, logistics, and manufacturing businesses in 2020.
- Nearly $57 billion in manufacturing gross domestic product (GDP) in 2020.
- Average annual manufacturing wages of $66,738 in 2020.
- 912 million tons of freight valued at more than $1.1 trillion moving on Florida’s freight system in 2019.
- $94 billion in destination imports and $56 billion in origin exports in 2021.
Although the strength of Florida’s economy is widely known, the basis of that strength is not well understood, Wilson notes.
“Many people—both domestically and internationally—see Florida as a place to play,” he says. “But they don’t always immediately think of Florida as a place to work or innovate, despite our highly competitive business climate and strong record of job creation.”
Business leaders plan to better connect perception to reality through robust marketing, branding, and promotion efforts both in the United States and abroad, from participation in roundtables with businesses in the Southeast United States to expanded trade missions in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Rural and Inland Focus
One of the state’s strategies is to expand logistics and manufacturing activities in rural and inland Florida. This is consistent with a goal previously set by the Florida Chamber Foundation to double rural counties’ share of Florida GDP by 2030, Wilson says.
Inland Florida has unique opportunities not experienced by rural areas in other states because of Florida’s high rate of population growth and because nearly all parts of Florida are located within two hours of a major urban area, Wilson notes.
Florida’s rural and inland areas offer available land for warehouses, distribution centers, and manufacturing activities that often cannot be found in developed urban areas, as well as access to business and consumer markets in Florida and elsewhere.
In April 2022, the Ocala Metro area alone had 5 million square feet of industrial space under construction, with another 7 million square feet approved and 4 million in the pipeline, reflecting the high demand for inland Florida market space.
In addition, Wilson says, Florida’s agricultural and forestry sectors can continue to grow to meet both local and global demand.
Continually ranked one of the best states for job creation, Florida is committed to keeping regulatory red tape and business taxes low, Wilson says. He cites that mindset, along with a growing economy and zero personal state income tax, for making the state one of the best places anywhere to do business.
A Growing Population
With $1.29 trillion GDP, Florida ranks number 4 in state GDP and number 1 for business startups. The state’s top-quality education, budding infrastructure, fiscal stability, and great quality of life combine to explain why Florida—which already is home to 22 million people—gains approximately 1,000 new residents every day.
“We expect approximately 3.5 million new residents and 50 million more annual visitors by 2030, which represents a huge market potential for consumers and the workforce,” Wilson says, adding that more than half of all U.S. growth through 2030 is anticipated to occur in the country’s southern regions.
“Florida offers efficient connections to many of these domestic markets with available freight capacity on its roads, railroads, seaports, and airports,” he says.
In addition, Florida is a gateway to emerging markets in the Americas and for international trade moving through the Panama Canal. The state’s ports are some of the nation’s closest to ports in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Africa, positioning Florida to be competitive in meeting the demand of the rapid economic growth expected for these regions.
Port Tampa Bay
Factoring prominently in Florida’s strategic advantages as an ideal launch pad to reach export customers and receive imported goods is the Port of Tampa, otherwise known as Port Tampa Bay.
“The Tampa Bay region is seeing significant activity from companies that are choosing to set up their manufacturing or distribution activities here and benefit from the logistics cost savings of our location at the intersection of the major east-west and north-south trade lanes,” explains Raul Alfonso, Port Tampa Bay’s executive vice president and chief commercial officer.
Alfonso says companies seeking out the region for their operations include expanded global container services serving trade with Asia via the expanded Panama Canal, as well as Latin America and Mexico.
“Port Tampa Bay and the Central Florida region have abundant land available to support this expansion,” he says. “Companies can also enjoy the benefits of operating under the Foreign Trade Zone managed by the port, as well as savings from the lack of state income tax.”
The Tampa/Orlando I-4 Corridor is home to the largest concentration of distribution centers in Florida, which allows for multiple round-trip deliveries per day from Port Tampa Bay, compared to the traditional routes via congested out-of-state ports. Alfonso says attractive northbound backhaul trucking rates extend the port’s reach to customers beyond Florida throughout the Southeast. Expansion now underway includes adding more storage and berth capacity, additional cranes, a new gate complex, and transloading facilities.
“Port Tampa Bay stands ready to welcome new business and serve as a supply chain alternative and solution,” Alfonso says, adding that Port Tampa Bay’s container volume has increased by nearly 30% over the past year. “Our port has easily accommodated this growth by staying ahead of the curve thanks to our terminal build-out program and working closely with our terminal operator partner Ports America,” he says.
Rapidly Expanding Capacity
To stay ahead of the curve and avoid congestion and delays, Port Tampa Bay has been aggressively expanding capacity in partnership with Ports America, recently adding more paved storage and beginning construction of the new gate complex. Alfonso says additional container gantry cranes are expected later in 2022, both of which will be operational by early 2023.
Port Tampa Bay’s breakbulk volume is up 131% for the first six months of the fiscal year.This includes a 110% increase in steel, and a 180% increase in lumber.
Port Logistics Refrigerated Services (PLRS) provides terminal and stevedoring for refrigerated cargo in a new state-of-the-art 135,000-square-foot cold storage warehouse, 148 reefer plugs, and fumigation services, as well as an adjacent berth served by two dedicated mobile harbor cranes. Since Port Tampa Bay is the closest port to Florida’s hub for the grocery and food and beverage sector, the new PLRS cold storage facility will bring overall annual terminal capacity to 1 million TEUs.
“Our port is incredibly grateful for the support of Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Department of Transportation, which helped Florida’s seaports secure $250 million in stimulus relief to offset the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Alfonso says, adding that Port Tampa Bay received $20 million of those funds.
Also significant among the economic development and logistics advantages of Florida is Port Everglades.
Business diversity and a strong commitment to customer service distinguish Port Everglades from most U.S. seaports. With its proximity to the popular Caribbean, Port Everglades is the third-busiest cruise homeport in the world. It is a leading container port in Florida and among the most active cargo ports nationally.
Port Everglades is also South Florida’s main seaport for receiving energy products, including gasoline and jet fuel. Port customers benefit from direct highway access, an international airport within two miles, state-of-the-art Foreign Trade Zone warehousing, and a 43-acre international and domestic intermodal container transfer facility that makes it possible for cargo shipped to Port Everglades to reach Atlanta and Charlotte within two days and 70% of the U.S. population in four days.
“It can be a bit of a balancing act, but Port Everglades operates like a well-oiled machine due to our dedicated workforce and a commitment to making our port a diversified global leader for cruise, cargo, and energy,” says Jonathan Daniels, Port Everglades chief executive and port director. “Our mission is to be number-one in everything we do, and we recognize that true partnerships with our customers will get us there.”
An epicenter for international trade, the port is positioned in one of the world’s largest consumer regions, including a combined 110 million residents and seasonal visitors within an 80-mile radius. In fact, Port Everglades is the U.S. gateway for trade with Latin America, moving 13% of all U.S./Latin American trade.
The port’s diversified cargo mix includes containers, refrigerated cargo (4th for imports in the United States), new and used automobiles and trucks, dry bulk, breakbulk, project, roll on/roll off (RO/RO), and liquid bulk.
The Port Everglades International Logistics Center (ILC), developed in 2020 through a public-private partnership with Center Point Port Everglades LLC, has efficient, contemporary warehousing within two buildings on 16.66 acres of port property.
The ILC contains warehouse, refrigerated warehouse and office space, and cross-docking facilities to support services available to shippers using Port Everglades. The entire logistics center is designated as a Foreign Trade Zone.
Interconnected and In Demand
Typically, Port Everglades hosts nearly 4 million passengers annually sailing Caribbean, South American, and Transatlantic itineraries offered by a variety of cruise lines and one daily ferry service. Guests enjoy the port’s proximity to three international airports including the rapidly growing Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL) less than two miles away.
Always striving to modernize its facilities to maximize productivity, Port Everglades follows an aggressive, comprehensive Master/Vision Plan that is updated every 2-4 years to reanalyze market trends, changes in the cruise, cargo shipping, and energy industries, local planning initiatives, and evolving technology. This in-depth analysis provides a projective and substantiated market-driven and environmentally sound phased roadmap for guiding cost-feasible capital investments.
A Broward County department, Port Everglades does not rely on local tax dollars for operations. The total value of economic activity related to Port Everglades exceeds $30 billion. More than 206,000 Florida jobs are impacted by the port, including 7,000 people who work for companies providing direct services.
With such strategic advantages and focus on continual growth, Florida no doubt will continue its rise up the ladder of the world’s strongest economies through 2030 and beyond.