Looking ahead: The future of Jacksonville's logistics industry

Jacksonville Business Journal by Lauren Darm, Correspondent
Friday, October 19, 2012, 6:00am EDT

The Jacksonville Business Journal and North Florida Transportation Planning Organization hosted their annual Trade and Transportation Symposium Oct. 15, presented by Holland & Knight LLP and the Jacksonville Port Authority with patron sponsors BH Capital Ltd. and BBVA Compass.

The following is a recap of the presentations made during the symposium.

Jacksonville Port Authority update

According to a 2012 Florida legislative statute, Florida ports are now required to develop strategic plans with a 10-year horizon.

While the Port of Jacksonville has always emphasized the importance of looking down the road with strategic planning, Jaxport is especially excited about the changes a few years out in 2015.

"2015 is going to be a key year for us to grow and to provide greater capabilities to our clients," said Chris Kauffmann<http://www.bizjournals.com/jacksonville/search/results?q=Chris%20Kauffmann>, the port's chief operating officer, at the 2012 Global Trade and Transportation Symposium.

First, the widening of the Panama Canal will be finished by 2015, which will allow larger cargo ships to travel through. This on top of the Suez Canal opening up more direct trading routes with Asian countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia, India and, of course, China.

"We have a strategic location for both of these to China, which is where most of our cargo is coming from," Kauffmann said.

In addition, the Mile Point project, which aims to improve the flow of the St. Johns River where currents provide navigational problems for deep-draft vessels, should be complete by 2015.

Right now, the next major milestone for navigation improvements is in the approval stage. Assuming the defense authorization bill passes, the engineering design specs should be done in the spring and construction will start, which would bring the project to completion in 2015.

Completion of this project would give cargo ships 24-hour access to the port, regardless of tides, which right now limit ships to an eight-hour window each day.

Finally, Jaxport is working on some infrastructure upgrades, including $50 million to $60 million Blount Island and Talleyrand berth rehab and Blount Island rail rehab projects to be completed by 2015. Plus, an intermodal terminal could be open by then as well.

According to Kauffmann, access to an intermodal container transfer facility would add more efficiency to Jaxport by allowing cargo containers to be transferred directly from the ships to railroad cars.

Transportation tomorrow

Imagine a day where cars are so technologically advanced that they can communicate directly with each other and the need for an actual driver becomes irrelevant. Imagine the day where gasoline becomes the minority fuel source.

Think about the day where we all have computer systems installed in our vehicles counting the number of miles we drive to create a replacement to the fuel tax.

All of these things may seem far-fetched, but in reality, they are going to happen in the not-too-distant future. And some of them are happening right now.

According to Jim Barbaresso<http://www.bizjournals.com/jacksonville/search/results?q=Jim%20Barbaresso>, vice president of intelligent transportation systems at HNTB Corp. who spoke at the 2012 Global Trade and Transportation Symposium, there are connected vehicles driving on the streets of Ann Arbor, Mich.

"When I refer to connected vehicles, I'm talking about cars that talk to each other," he said.

Basically these cars connect wirelessly and alert the driver if something is happening around you, such as if there is a collision ahead or someone is in your blind spot. In addition to the safety alerts, the cars can also provide information such as parking availability and traffic light countdowns.

Barbaresso envisions the day these cars are on streets everywhere. Plus, he said autonomous vehicles - or driverless cars - are not too far off.

Marty Burr<http://www.bizjournals.com/jacksonville/search/results?q=Marty%20Burr>, performance manager for the city of Rock Hill, S.C., who also spoke at the symposium, he dreams of a day where the U.S. is less dependent on gasoline.

"Gasoline is a good fuel, and I think it's going to be around for a long time, but we need to look at other alternatives," Burr said. "The price of gasoline is going to keep going up."

That is why Burr is making it his goal to implement multiple types of alternative fuels, such as biodiesel, E85 ethanol, electric vehicles and compressed natural gas. Not only are these good for the environment, they help eliminate certain costs such as maintenance, oil changes and fuel itself.

Paul Hanley<http://www.bizjournals.com/jacksonville/search/results?q=Paul%20Hanley>, the director of transportation policy research at the Program Policy Center and an associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Iowa, thinks people could also save money by adopting a mileage charging system as a replacement to the fuel tax.

In Florida, the fuel tax comes in at about 52 to 54 cents per gallon, which totals $780 per vehicle per year, Hanley said. That is higher than the national average of 18.4 cents per gallon. Adopting something like a mileage-based user charge might be a better alternative.

The future of Cecil Airport

While Cecil Airport has had a sparse reputation, the Jacksonville Aviation Authority's CEO wanted to set the record straight at the symposium.

Steve Grossman<http://www.bizjournals.com/jacksonville/search/results?q=Steve%20Grossman> said the airport is on its way to becoming the premier industrial and logistical airport in the Southeast.

According to Grossman, the 6,000-acre airport has been improving its infrastructure. For example, it has five new hangars, one still under construction and two more in the design stage because all of the spaces available to tenants are full.

"Jacksonville and Cecil are where people want to be," he said. "Companies are recognizing that this is a great place to do business."

To keep up with the expanding client demand, the JAA is even looking to develop other parts of Cecil. There is already a plan to open 150 acres on the Eastside to new tenants.

Plus, the airport has been named as one of eight spaceports in the U.S. - the only one in an urban area - meaning Cecil Airport can handle horizontal launch aircrafts and suborbital flights.

According to Grossman, no number of operations is too big for the airport and the 3,000 employees working there. As of 2011, Cecil Airport had more than 70,000 operations, and Grossman said the former military base could easily handle several hundred thousand more.

"Those 3,000 employees have had more economic impact than the Navy ever had," he said. "What we are doing today has more than compensated for the loss, and we have so much more potential."


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