Annual Review & Outlook 2013: Philadelphia Regional Port Authority

James T. McDermott, Jr.In past essays, I may have touched on this point when discussing the economics of port operations, but I think it bears repeating, and with a bit more emphasis as our industry moves into increasingly hopeful but still challenging waters after the national economic downturn of years past.

The days are over when port authorities can expect their state governments or other governing bodies to simply write a large check so a port could build a new marine terminal, rail connection, distribution center, or other major logistics improvement, even if studies and due diligence solidly suggest that such improvements will generate cargo and other business activity.

Not only are capital appropriations from government harder to come by these days, but do we really want to rely entirely on them to accomplish our goals? If a port is so sure that building a new marine terminal in an underutilized portion of its shipping channel will increase market share and bring new life to that port, shouldn’t it be relatively easy to identify a private industry component that would agree with the port on that point, and partner with it in the construction and operation of such a terminal?

Not only would this lend credibility to the port’s assertions that such a major improvement is needed, but it would also facilitate the release of any remaining (and hopefully much smaller) capital appropriations from the government that might still be required, as the port can stand alongside a private company that is ready to invest its own funds and enthusiastically operate the facility once it opens.

The idea of public-private partnership certainly isn’t a new one in our industry, but it’s important to keep it a fresh, vital component of our decision-making process, especially when it comes to funding new construction. Let’s not let that particular item in our toolbox become rusty from neglect.

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