Virginia ports a driving economic force

Published 8:29 pm Saturday, January 28, 2017

By Arthur W. Moye Jr.

On Thursday, more than 50 business leaders from the Virginia Maritime Association will participate in the 10th annual Port Day at the General Assembly.

We will visit all 140 members of the General Assembly to thank them for the historic $350-million investment they made in 2016 to add capacity at the state’s largest facility, Norfolk International Terminals.

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This investment will assure that Virginia importers continue to satisfy customers by keeping their shelves stocked and production lines working, that our exporters can ship their goods to foreign markets with reliable and cost efficient transportation, and that the Port of Virginia can continue to be a major economic engine throughout the commonwealth.

In 2016 the Port of Virginia set a new annual record for container cargo volume, having handled more than 2.65 million 20-foot equivalent units, a 4.2 percent increase over last year’s total.

Supported by economic development agencies and Virginia’s strong trade promotion programs, there were 41 port-related new business announcements or expansions in 2016, accounting for more than 2.5 million square feet of operating space, $733 million of capital investment, and 3,600 new jobs.

These port-related developments occurred in communities from the Southside to Northern Virginia, from Hampton Roads to the Valley, and from Central Virginia to Southwest.

Last year saw two more monumental events affecting the Port of Virginia that will benefit port users and customers in every corner of the commonwealth.

The Virginia Port Authority and the owner of Virginia International Gateway in Portsmouth extended until 2065 the commonwealth’s operational control of one of the most technologically advanced marine terminals in the world. This agreement set in motion a $320-million expansion that will double VIG’s annual container throughput capacity.

Also, June brought the inauguration of the Panama Canal Expansion Project. It took 40,000 workers nearly 10 years to complete the expansion, which nearly triples the capacity of the original canal, allowing ships three times larger and carrying up to 14,000 containers a quicker path between Asia and the U.S. east coast.

The Virginia Port Authority is moving thoughtfully and expeditiously at NIT and VIG, as orders have been placed for new cargo handling equipment, design work is nearing completion, and contractors should be in place to begin construction at the beginning of July.

Last February, the Virginia Maritime Association released “The Economic Impacts of Virginia’s Maritime Industry,” a study conducted by the Raymond A. Mason School of Business at th College of William & Mary, commissioned to assess the economic and fiscal impacts of Virginia’s non-military maritime industry.

The ripple effect of 79 million tons of cargo being exported and imported annually through Virginia’s ports generates 530,800 jobs, $27.4 billion in wages, $88.4 billion in spending and $2.7 billion in state and local taxes, which accounts for 10.1 percent of Virginia’s gross state product.

“Any way you want to look at it, the maritime industry is responsible for better than 10 percent of Virginia’s economy,” stated Roy L. Pearson.

In combination, the projects at NIT and VIG will increase container-handling capacity at the Port of Virginia by more than 40 percent and could generate over 280,000 additional jobs across the state. That will be 50 percent more port-related jobs than the over half a million jobs already generated by Virginia’s port activities.

Virginia’s economy still faces headwinds, but because of investments made by the Commonwealth, businesses across the globe have taken note of Virginia’s ports, and the returns on these investments are quickly materializing.

Arthur W. Moye Jr. is the executive vice president of the Virginia Maritime Association in Norfolk.