We have already seen the impact of the faltering economy, both at the national and international levels, on our cargo business, which has traditionally been heavily dependent on building materials to fuel the explosive growth of central Florida.
Cement, one of our largest cargoes by volume, simply stopped flowing altogether, primarily the victim of the slowdown in construction, the weak dollar and high bunker fuel costs. Lumber slowed to a trickle for the same reasons. Aggregate, for road construction, ebbs and flows with major construction projects. The story is the same for many small to medium-sized multiuse ports nationwide. The commodities may vary, but the impact has been the same.
There’s a silver lining: First, it is difficult to imagine a 2009 worse than 2008. Second, such challenges present opportunities for reinvigoration through reinvention. Easy words, but especially applicable for ports that have the advantage some would say disadvantage of the flexibility of not being entirely “married” to containers.
The continuing economic woes also are hitting a cruise industry strong enough to fend them off in 2008, but perhaps showing some weakness under the constant pounding of bad economic news. Last year, I speculated that with the advent of mega-cruise ships, emerging markets and the retirement of older vessels, the U.S. cruise industry might redeploy fleets now scattered to some degree, to fewer U.S. ports. That may, indeed, be starting to happen now, especially as European markets cool. This deployment strategy could strain the capacity of the U.S. cruise port industry, an interesting phenomenon previously unique to the cargo ports.