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DeSantis tries to lure shippers to Jacksonville port

 Governor Ron DeSantis at JAXPORT Tuesday, October 19, 2021.
Raymon Tronosco
Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at JAXPORT on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021.

Gov. Ron DeSantis is trying to convince cargo companies they can avoid shipping delays at other ports by rerouting their containers to JAXPORT.

DeSantis told reporters in Jacksonville on Tuesday that Florida’s ports will offer incentives to offset the cost of rerouting ships.

“Florida's here, we've got capacity, and we also have incentive packages to make it worth your while to be able to bring your business to our port,” DeSantis said.

But whether the move would solve shipping problems that are pinching consumers is questionable, some experts say.

Nearly 1.5 million containers moved through JAXPORT this last fiscal year, a record, according to CEO Eric Green. Despite the increase, the port has not experienced the delays that have left ships backed up at ports elsewhere in the country, loaded with goods that can't get to consumers.

The pandemic, manufacturing delays, labor shortages and the holiday shopping season all are creating the supply chain issues around the world.

“The success of this year’s holiday season depends on shippers and ocean carriers diversifying their port calls and utilizing uncongested ports like ours,” Greene said.

The governor was not specific about what type of incentives might attract more shippers here, and he did not accept questions from reporters during the press conference Tuesday.

Port representative Chelsea Kavanagh said in a statement: "Incentives are available on a per-container rate for new ocean carrier services calling JAXPORT. The rate is negotiable and varies depending on a variety of factors related to the specifics of the service."

Even with discounts, Florida may not be a feasible solution for the worst of the nation’s supply chain problems, one expert said.

The director of the University of Florida’s Supply Chain Management Center, Asoo Vakharia, said rerouting ships to Jacksonville could just push delays down the line to trucking companies, and eventually to consumers.

“Getting the stuff to Jacksonville is one thing, but then how do we get it from Jacksonville to where the product is actually needed?” Vakharia said. “There is all this shipping, internal infrastructure networks that are already set up.”

He added that while JAXPORT may be able to offset some of the costs of rerouting ships for now, it isn’t necessarily a long-term solution. JAXPORT isn’t deep enough to accommodate the larger, longer ships that are most economical for some shipping companies.

“Currently, it's not economical for them to have smaller vessels,” Vakharia said. “In an emergency setting, you can employ shorter vessels or smaller vessels, but essentially, you will drive up the cost.”

Jacksonville City Council voted last year to loan JAXPORT $75 million to deepen its waterway from 40 feet to 47 feet to accommodate more cargo. According to JAXPORT, that project is set to be completed by 2022. The nation’s largest port, in Los Angeles, is 53 feet deep.

JAXPORT did recently win business from at least one shipper who was tired of waiting in long lines elsewhere. The European-US shipper Hapag-Lloyd temporarily added JAXPORT to its route for at least the next two months.

WJCT reporter Raymon Tronosco contributed to this report.

Claire joined WJCT as a reporter in August 2021. She was previously the local host of NPR's Morning Edition at WUOT in Knoxville, Tennessee. During her time in East Tennessee, her coverage of the COVID pandemic earned a Public Media Journalists’ Association award for investigative reporting. You can reach Claire at (904) 250-0926 or on Twitter @ClaireHeddles.