August 27, 2014

Sector Portrait: Trade

International Trade is a Bright Spot for Florida

Trends and challenges at Florida's airports, seaports, and free trade zones.

CSX Intermodal
Trade officials say Florida needs more intermodal railroads to pick up cargo at ports.

> Challenge: Infrastructure

Retaining business, say trade officials, will require significant investments in ports and transportation infrastructure. These days "speed to market" is the top concern for manufacturers, says Michael Hopkins, vice president of Latin American operations for Crowley Liner Services, which has terminals at Port Everglades and Jaxport. But Florida's interior transportation infrastructure isn't always efficient at moving cargo into and out of airports and seaports. "Florida is currently one of the most difficult states to get around in physically," says Michael Cavendish, a Jacksonville attorney with Gunster and chairman of both the Jacksonville Transportation Authority and the Northeast Florida Regional Transportation Study Commission.

Among needed changes, officials say:

  • More intermodal railroads picking up cargo on port docks
  • Better road connections between airports and seaports and major highways
  • Uniform highway tolls
  • Widening I-95

> Challenge: Coordination

Trains and trucks that cart goods into Florida return north largely empty — excess capacity that is an opportunity for importers to move their cargo northward inexpensively. Inbound freight tonnage, according to the Florida Chamber Foundation study, is 80% larger than outbound tonnage. That makes the state a potentially attractive location for major retailers' warehouse and distribution sites, says Joel Haka, executive vice president and COO of Florida East Coast Railway.


"Our relationship with Latin America is what gives us an edge in foreign direct investment. But having too many eggs in one basket, especially when that basket is in the developing world, can be troubling."
—Manny Mencia,
Enterprise Florida
[Photo: Daniel Portnoy]

But, he says, attracting those retailers and the ocean cargo lines that carry goods for them will require a coordinated, statewide strategy that includes marketing and the use of financial incentives.

> Challenge: Diversify Export Destinations

TD Bank economist Alistair Bentley says that boosting high-value exports such as aviation, photonics and biomedical technology would help grow the state's manufacturing sector. Manny Mencia, Enterprise Florida's senior vice president and COO for international trade and development, believes one of the fastest ways to grow exports is to help current exporters expand to more countries.More than 60% of Florida's exports ship to Latin America and the Caribbean. Mencia says Florida's top priority must remain its relationship with that region, but the state also needs to increase trade with other markets, particularly Asia, the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa.

Florida's Airports
Airport Commercial Passengers (2010)
Miami International Airport 35,029,106
Orlando International Airport 34,288,697
Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport 22,412,627
Tampa International Airport 16,645,765
Southwest Florida International Airport (Fort Myers) 7,380,596
Palm Beach International Airport 5,864,910
Jacksonville International Airport 5,601,500
Pensacola Regional Airport 1,439,740
Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport 1,332,680
Orlando Sanford International Airport 1,165,435
Northwest Florida Regional Airport (Eglin AFB) 800,000*
St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport 776,535
Tallahassee Regional Airport 684,916
Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (Panama City Beach) 677,587
Key West International Airport 566,889
Daytona Beach International Airport 476,558
Melbourne International Airport 345,399
Gainesville Regional Airport 298,504
Charlotte County Airport / Punta Gorda Airport 182,423
Source: Airports *Estimate. This list may not be reproduced in any format without written permission from the publisher.

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