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Don Fry: Booming Port of Baltimore is one of the region’s most vital assets

Don Fry, President and CEO Greater Baltimore Committee

Don Fry, President and CEO Greater Baltimore Committee

Most readers of this special publication sponsored by the Greater Baltimore Committee (GBC) may not know this, but business at one of the region’s vital assets, the Helen Delich Bentley Port of Baltimore, is booming.

In fact, the Port of Baltimore is in demand, operating at a high degree of efficiency and breaking a number of long-held records.

Consider these facts:

• The 312-year-old state facility had its best quarter ever during the first quarter of 2018, according to port officials in June. A record amount of general cargo and containers came through its marine terminals.
• This news comes on the heels of state officials announcing in February that the port logged a record year for business in 2017, handling 38.4 million tons of cargo.
• In 2017 it was named the fourth fastest growing port in North America and one of the most efficient ports in the U.S.
• Commercial real estate rents for port-related businesses are getting noticed as very affordable compared to other East Coast cities with major ports, such as Miami and New York, a report by commercial real estate giant JLL found.
• Last month the Port of Baltimore was named a “Top 50 Power Port” by Global Trade Magazine, in part due to its record-breaking streak.

One of the key drivers of the port’s recent growth and success is that it is one of just four ports on the East Coast able to accommodate the massive “Post Panamax” ships now coming through the Panama Canal. The canal was expanded at a cost of $5.2 billion and completed in 2016 to handle these big container ships.

The Port of Baltimore is able to accommodate these new giants of the sea, in large part, due to the creation of a 50-foot berth and maintaining the 50-foot deep shipping channel in the Chesapeake Bay. The channel connects the port to the Atlantic Ocean and ultimately to the global marketplace.

The foresight to make these investments is paying off. According to port officials, container tonnage has increased 14 percent since the canal expansion. That’s a significant increase when you consider the port was seeing year-over-year increases of 2 percent to 3 percent prior to the canal expansion.

This level of activity and a highly-trained and committed workforce give the port a great competitive edge for business. It’s that edge that ensures the port serves as one of the Greater Baltimore region’s most vital assets. It is a driver of the economy, supports a healthy business climate and fuels good jobs.

About 13,650 jobs are directly tied to day-to-day port operations, making the port a Maryland employer almost as large as the U.S. Social Security Administration. The port ranks as one of the top employers statewide: No. 12.

Some other statistics that are worth considering:

• An estimated 127,600 jobs statewide are in one way or another related to the port.
• Wages and salaries generated from these jobs are estimated by the port at $3 billion.
• The average annual income for a job directly related to the port is $61,877, state figures show – about 16 percent higher than the average salary in Maryland, ($53,470).

The ripple effect of these jobs and related economic activity is significant and underscores why the port – though it may operate out of the daily news headlines – needs to be widely recognized and appreciated by all Marylanders.

The prominent role of the port is why the GBC is once again pleased to sponsor this special publication. The GBC hopes to educate and inform readers of the port’s pivotal role in the regional and state economy.

There is just one missing piece of the puzzle to ensure that the port can continue to grow and keep booming in the competitive port industry: The expansion of the Howard Street Tunnel, which runs through downtown Baltimore for 1.7 miles.

Freight trains use the tunnel to transport goods to and from the port. Unfortunately, the tunnel, which was built in 1865, cannot accommodate cargo containers stacked two high on rail cars. Freight carriers today prefer this double stacking for improved efficiency. A plan to raise the height clearance of the tunnel to accommodate double stacking cargo was put on hold last year by CSX, which owns the tunnel. It’s imperative that state and Port leaders continue to talk and work with CSX to get this project back on line.

This tunnel expansion is a game-changing project that will take the Port of Baltimore to a whole new level and guarantee that it remains an economic powerhouse for the state and region for years to come.

To purchase a reprint of this article, contact reprints@thedailyrecord.com.

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