Industry experts explore Jacksonville’s supply chain advantages

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State of the Port 2022
Mar 22, 2022 | Cargo Blog

Despite a global pandemic and worldwide supply chain disruption, Jacksonville’s port is thriving. This success is driving significant business growth, and job creation, in the Jacksonville area.

During the “Why Jacksonville” panel discussion at the 2022 State of the Port address hosted by the Propeller Club – Port of Jacksonville, leaders from organizations that have significantly contributed to JAXPORT’s success explored the supply chain advantages Jacksonville offers shippers and ocean carriers—and the businesses and consumers they serve.

The port’s ability to provide solutions to the nation’s port congestion crisis will grow exponentially this year. JAXPORT’s single biggest growth initiative, deepening the shipping channel from 40 to 47 feet, is on track to be completed through JAXPORT’s Blount Island Marine Terminal in May. The project will allow larger ships serving the U.S. East Coast to call on JAXPORT with more containers on board. The project includes a new turning basin to allow larger vessels to turn at Blount Island. In coordination with the deepening, JAXPORT and port partner SSA Atlantic are completing more than $200 million in enhancements to increase the terminal’s capabilities.

SSA’s Director of Strategic Planning Bobby Wein calls the deepening project a “game-changer.”

SSA Bobby Wein

“I would call the draft and improvements a game-changer.”

“We’ve had a number of discussions with a lot of carriers and they’re coming to us now because we’re in a different game,” Wein said. “Everybody looked at how they could get their largest vessel – especially East-West trade from Asia – and how they could get these super-sized vessels in. They used to not be able to think about Jacksonville. Now, it’s on their radar.”

Jacksonville is known as America’s Logistics Center because of its rail and highway network, complemented by an experienced network of service providers. Shippers can reach more than 98 million people within a one day’s truck drive from Jacksonville’s port.

The pandemic has further fueled the rise in e-commerce, which had been steadily growing for more than a decade. The shift to online shopping has prompted companies like Amazon, Wayfair, Ulta Beauty and Kroger to set up operations, and create jobs, in places like Jacksonville that offer fast access to consumers.

Aundra Wallace headshot

“E-commerce has an opportunity for growth right here in this region.”

“E-commerce has an opportunity for growth right here in this region,” JAXUSA Partnership President Aundra Wallace said. “During the pandemic over the past two years, I don’t think there’s anyone who didn’t see an Amazon truck every five to ten minutes.”

Wallace outlined five key factors decision-makers examine when considering a move or expansion: quality of life and top-rated school districts to help retain a quality workforce, availability of building sites, a region’s business-friendly local and state regulations, and favorable tax environment. All advantages Jacksonville has in spades.

Ceres Terminals recently invested $60 million in growing its Jacksonville footprint through the operation of a second JAXPORT facility, the 158-acre TraPac Jacksonville container terminal at Dames Point. An existing JAXPORT tenant, Ceres has also operated the adjacent JAXPORT intermodal yard (ICTF) at Dames Point, since it opened in 2016.

With backlogs at other ports reaching historic highs, Ceres Terminals CEO Craig Mygatt said the timing for the expansion couldn’t be better. “Jacksonville has the capacity now that can absorb those extra vessels,” Mygatt said. “We have the capabilities. By investing into the infrastructure here on the port side, between the two locations, we can take a lot of cargo in that the others can’t handle right now.”

Craig Mygatt headshot

“Jacksonville has the capacity now that can absorb those extra vessels.”

One of Jacksonville’s most important and longest standing trading relationships is with the island of Puerto Rico. It’s a partnership Sergio Sandrin, President at freight forwarder Aqua Gulf, said continues to evolve. He cites the commitment of JAXPORT’s three ocean carriers serving the island—TOTE, Crowley and Trailer Bridge—as a major factor in the continued growth of the trade. Other opportunities include the use of liquefied natural gas (LNG) as a clean marine fuel, increased demand for cold storage, and the resurgence of manufacturing on the island.

“Jacksonville is the lifeblood and the lifeline for Puerto Rico manufacturing as we move forward,” Sandrin said.

Sergio Sandrin

“Jacksonville is the lifeblood and the lifeline for Puerto Rico manufacturing as we move forward.”

Expansion is on the horizon for Southeast Toyota Distributors, which currently operates 100 acres of vehicle processing space at JAXPORT. The company receives vehicles from all over the world and distributes them to 177 dealers in the Southeast U.S. Group Vice President Casey Gunnell Jr. received a round of applause from the audience when he expressed the company’s commitment to growing in Jacksonville.

“In our business, we deal through partnerships, and JAXPORT for us has been an amazing partnership,” Gunnell said. “They are a business-forward organization that’s looking to not only support us but help us grow in this community.”

Casey Gunnel Jr

"JAXPORT for us has been an amazing partnership."

As the auto industry works to combat pandemic-related parts shortages that are impacting dealer inventory, Gunnell explained that Toyota is prepared. He said 10 years ago, the company began taking measures to diversify its suppliers, providing more flexibility during supply chain challenges.

“Back in 2018 we had a record year, we sold 182,000 vehicles at retail through those 177 dealers,” Gunnell said. “This year, we will process 387,000 vehicles through our vehicle processing facilities. So, we’re bullish on production. Toyota has already made commitments to those levels.”

Amid global supply chain disruption, Jacksonville’s transportation ecosystem is resilient. Through the support of its partners, JAXPORT will continue to command the industry’s attention and provide supply chain solutions for the nation.