The Port of Pensacola — established in 1743 — is moving into 2020 on the strength of a major revenue increase in fiscal year 2019.
The port finished at $2.41 million — compared to $1.26 million at the beginning of the fiscal year — that’s a more than 91% surge, according to port director Amy Miller – who’s not surprised in the least.
“We’ve worked really hard over the last couple of years, particularly since the new port vision plan study came out, to try to diversify our revenue base here at the port,” said Miller. “And do some things that are not traditional cargo types of activity. And I think some of those successes have contributed to the increase in revenue.”
Much of the efforts at the port stem in part from that port study plan. As someone who has spent three decades in the port industry, having worked at three ports in as many states, Miller says the blueprint “makes a lot of sense” for the Port of Pensacola’s future.
“Every time we’re considering a new business prospect for the port, we can refer back to that document and say, ‘OK, let’s evaluate this business prospect in terms of does it fit with the vision that this plan put forward?’ And if it does, it should be an easy ‘yes;’ and if it doesn’t, it should be an easy ‘no.’”
The port’s tenant lineup includes Cemex, Pensacola Bay Oysters, American Magic Sailing, Blue Origin, Pate Stevedore, Martin Marietta and Offshore Inland Marine & Oilfield Services. Among the highlights of the plan, says Miller, is the pursuit of diversification, away from a port that only handles cargo.
“We have the Pensacola Bay Ferry operation; the plan says that we should pursue other marine-related tourism and recreational-types of uses,” Miller said. “So we’re going to be looking at other ways to incorporate other marine recreation near and around the port.”
With the ferry getting ready for its second season under current management, many are wondering about the “C-word," as in “cruise line.” The port, says Miller, does not have what modern cruise ships try to avoid, such as shallow water and overhead obstacles like bridges.
“The question really is, is that what the community wants, and is the tourism sector ready to get behind it?” said Miller. “That’s really what it takes, is a push by the tourism sector to make that sale to the cruise lines, of why Pensacola should be a good choice for them.”
Other significant increases during the fiscal year involved dockage days, wind energy shipments and a 78% rise in breakbulk cargo — goods that must be loaded individually, and not in intermodal containers — nor in bulk as with oil or grain.
“We are a maritime city; we will have a port; it’s something that is in our DNA and I think we have the opportunity to be successful,” said Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson. He applauds the “niche” approach to developing the facility, saying it cannot, and should not, be everybody’s port."
“We can’t be what the Port of Mobile is, we can’t be what the Port of Panama City is,” the mayor said. “We simply gave Amy the ability to go find those solutions. She’s got a couple of things looking right now that could utilize the port, and we’re still working with a couple of those prospects. And if that happens we can even continue to draw more jobs and be more successful.”
The key, says Robinson, is luring companies that are compatible with what’s going on downtown, and preparing to receive them. One major factor could be getting some more BP oil spill money from Triumph Gulf Coast.
“We’re soon going to be going back out to Triumph — they’re going to be over here on our end — the west end [of the Panhandle] in the near future,” the mayor said. “We’re going to begin talking with them about doing some dredging on Berth-6 and setting up Berth-6. Because we think there will be more opportunities.”
Most of the northern end of the port remains open, in hopes of finding more opportunities for development — preferably, Robinson says, in areas such as research and what he calls “non-traditional” port uses.
“I think it’s just more of Amy and her staff being given a direction, and being able to go execute that direction,” said Robinson. “We’ve been able to find that we can do things, and we can do things that are compatible with downtown. The port has great potential, great opportunity, but as a niche port.”
Academia could become another niche. The University of West Florida leases warehouse space at the port for a mechanical engineering class that conducts lab activities.
“The vision plan calls for the port to get involved in marine and maritime-related research and technology development, and educational activities,” Miller said. “So this fits right in with it. One of our desires is to see that connection between the port and the university grow in the future.”
Other plans for this year at the Port of Pensacola include working with the city on upgrading roads to and from the facility; continuing to improve port infrastructure, and increasing cargo volumes. Plans are also in the works to go after new marine maritime repair and overhaul firms — MROs — along with related light manufacturing.