As they navigate through uncertain economic times, seaports worldwide must rededicate themselves to the mission of energizing the economies of the regions they serve.
With that re-dedication comes, perhaps, two of the most daunting challenges of all:
- Ports must be prepared to invest unprecedented amounts of money into infrastructure, including the maintenance and operation of their navigable waterways.
- They must be prepared to self-fund or obtain private funding for these projects, as governmental entities become increasingly more reluctant or unable to provide such funding.
There is a pressing need for these issues to be addressed now. Changes in vessel construction, the emergence of Third World economies placing infrastructure demands on their own societies and the evolution of global shipping lanes are just a few of the dynamics pressing seaports to upgrade facilities as soon as possible.
The widening of the Panama Canal, scheduled for 2014, has prompted intense competition among a dozen U.S. seaports along the Gulf Coast and Eastern Seaboard vying for that trade. It is a high-stakes game that will likely see only a handful of ports benefit. Those that do will have the berths, cranes and deep-water channels able to handle the big ships and the heavier cargoes they bring.
At a time when the need is most critical, the federal government appears less able to fund these mammoth projects at the levels they have in the past. Alternative funding sources, such as traditional bank financing and other self-funding mechanisms, are oftentimes more economically efficient and may better represent the true return on those investments.
The costliest option to choose is to wait and do nothing.
Prudent investments, over time, will bring increased cargo flow, jobs, robust economic activity and enhanced quality of life to a port’s region.