Port chairman stresses need for a deeper, wider channel

October 1st, 2019

Port of Houston Commission Chairman Ric Campo updates the BAHEP crowd on the State of the Port at the Hilton.

By Kathryn Paradis

Neither rain nor wind nor anything else brought on by Tropical Storm Imelda could stop Ric Campo, chairman of the Port of Houston Authority, from his appointed task of speaking to members of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership about the state of the port.

Considering the state of the weather Sept. 17, a good-sized audience gathered at the Hilton for the late afternoon reception.

What is the state of the port? It’s good. It’s really good. There are nearly 200 public and private terminals that make up the port. Houston is the nation’s No. 1 region for exports and home to the largest petrochemical manufacturing complex in the Americas.

Energy production and the export of crude oil, along with the increasing global demand for chemicals produced in the region, are major drivers of this success. This activity along the 52-mile ship channel has helped make the port the No. 1 U.S. port in foreign waterborne tonnage.

The economic impact of the greater port nationally includes 3.2 million jobs and $802 billion in economic value. In Texas, the port generates 1.35 million jobs and has an economic impact of $339 billion.

However, such growth can also create problems. Since 2015, there have been nine ship-ship or barge-ship collisions. He cautioned, “You ultimately have to get down to really simple concepts — no channel, no port, no port, no cargo, no cargo, no commerce, no commerce, no jobs. It really is about the channel.

“We have to make sure the channel is expanded and improved in order to meet this demand that is going on with increased cargo when it comes to both energy and containers. If we can’t move our energy products out through the channel, then the entire supply chain backs up. This creates serious issues for energy companies, for job growth, and for Texas. So, it’s really critical that we have a deeper and wider channel with two-way traffic.”

He concluded, “A wider channel is a safer channel. We have to make sure we protect lives as well as the environment. Jobs are important, but we can’t lose sight of the safety of everyone who lives around the channel. . .It will cost $1 billion . . .a lot of money, but when you think about the economic benefit, it’s really not. It’s about making sure that our kids and their kids have economic opportunity in the future and a better quality of life.”

A Banner Year

September 1st, 2015

bannerThe Port of Houston could be on the cusp of setting new records in tonnage

By Rod Evans

If the first eight months are any indication, the Port of Houston could be on its way to a record shattering year in 2015. According to the Port of Houston Authority (PHA), nearly 20 million tons of cargo has passed through Port of Houston docks so far, fueled by a huge increase in container units and steel imports.

Executive Director Roger Guenther explains that so far this year, the PHA’s Barbours Cut and Bayport container terminals have shown a 30 percent increase in loaded container units, while general cargo terminals reported a 26 percent growth in import steel tonnage.

“Business has reached its highest levels across several key business lines during recent years,” Guenther said, “and we must continue to strategically plan for the future opportunities.”

Steel imported into the port to support construction related to the oil and gas industry has seen enormous growth so far in 2015, with nearly 6.5 million tons crossing the docks, according to Stan Swigart, director of marketing and external communications for the PHA.

Swigart says the 30 percent increase in the container imports is attributed in large part to an ongoing rift between management and labor unions on the west coast that has caused a ripple effect across the industry and resulted in shipments being routed to the Port of Houston.

“The labor unions are in negotiations for a new contract, but they haven’t been able to come to an agreement, which held up some of the boxes (containers) that were going to the ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach,” Swigart said. “That caused congestion to clear those containers off the terminal, so a lot of those cargo owners booked cargo on alternative routings with other services instead of having the containers be stuck in Los Angeles and Long Beach. We hope to retain some of that and we think we will.”

Because the Port of Houston is widely known as one of the world leaders in handling containerized cargo, Swigart says the PHA focuses a considerable amount of its attention on marketing that business and trying to attract new carriers to utilize the PHA’s Barbours Cut and Bayport terminals. The port handled approximately 1.9 million TEU’s (20 foot equivalent) in container cargo last year—a record for the port—and he says officials are optimistic that the two million TEU threshold can be eclipsed this year.

“We focus a lot on container markets. That’s where the most opportunity lies and it provides the highest revenue per ton,” Swigart said.

With the Barbours Cut terminal, which was built in the 1970s, currently undergoing a massive modernization project and with the newer Bayport Terminal only about 50 to 60 percent built out, Swigart says once both terminals are running at full speed, port officials hope to increase container handling capacity to upwards of five million TEUs.

The port has also seen an increase in cargo related to the expansion of wind energy, with many components, including the massive blades, of windmills passing through the port on their way to wind farms in West Texas and beyond.

Meanwhile, Swigart says the recent mutually agreed upon decision between the Maersk Line, the world’s largest shipping company, and the PHA to terminate the shipper’s long held contract at Barbours Cut will prove to be a boon for the port and Maersk and its affiliated shipping services, SeaLand and Safmarine.

“This will give us back a lot of berthing space and lay down area for increasing our volumes for paying customers,” Swigart said. “They wanted to get out of the contract and we wanted to get our terminal back.”

The PHA previously had a landlord-tenant relationship with Maersk at Barbours Cut, but with the termination of the contract, the company is now free to call at that terminal or at the Bayport terminal as a common carrier.

Swigart said port officials are still assessing the impact of the recent announcement by Caribbean Princes and Norwegian Jade cruise lines to cease operations at the Bayport Cruise Terminal after the 2015-‘16 season.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen to the terminal yet, but we utilize it in the off-season as well as in-season for ships that need a place to tie up and re-store or do maintenance, and we charge them for that,” Swigart said. “The cruise lines will be calling through April 2016, but beyond that, we don’t know what the future holds.”

With the last quarter of 2015 upon us, Swigart says the port is bracing for changes in shipping caused by both seasonal and economy-driven factors. A drop in steel tonnage is anticipated he says due to the continued drop in oil prices and the attendant decline in exploration. However, a major increase in container cargo is expected as the holiday season nears.

xmasgifts“We always experience an increase in in-bound containers from Asia that is caused by supplying inventory for Christmas, and that starts real soon,” Swigart said.

According to Swigart, Asian trade is the fastest growing sector at the port, although that status is not yet reflected in the tonnage figures. He says the PHA plans to continue to heavily court the Asian trade, along with other marketing initiatives, in an effort to attract new carriers to call on the port.

“A lot of trade comes into Texas via Los Angeles and Long Beach (ports), but our target is to get those carriers to come directly into Houston instead of bringing (cargo) over land,” he said. “Over the next five years, we expect to see a jump in the export of containerized plastic resins, and that’s coming out of the refineries. The major markets for that will be Asia if the price remains low enough. The cheap natural gas and shale exploration is making it very inexpensive to produce.”

New Super Cranes mark beginning of new era at Barbours Cut Terminal

May 6th, 2015

6-1 Port cranesFour new Super Post-Panamax wharf cranes for the Port of Houston Authority’s Barbours Cut Container Terminal traveled up the Houston Ship Channel May 3 on the last leg of a 73-day journey.

The cranes, nearly 30 stories high, were manufactured by Konecranes in Mokpo, South Korea, and left for Houston Feb. 23.

These new electric Ship-To-Shore cranes can lift and lower a loaded container at twice the speed of the cranes currently in use at the Barbours Cut terminal. They weigh 1,505 tons, compared to 635 tons for the existing cranes.

These cranes, the largest ever built by Konecranes, are 289 feet high with a lift height of 204 feet. They will handle ships 22 containers wide.

“As part of a significant upgrade of our Barbours Cut Container Terminal, these new Super Post-Panamax cranes will accommodate the significantly larger vessels that will be calling on our container terminals after the expansion of the Panama Canal,” Port Commission Chairman Janiece Longoria said. “International trade, primarily containerized cargo, continues to expand rapidly at our facilities. More trade means more jobs and economic activity for our region and state in support of our mission.”

The growth in container trade through the Port of Houston and the increase in Super Post-Panamax ships coming to the port require faster and larger cranes for even more efficient containerized cargo handling. The expansion of the Panama Canal will be complete in 2016, and this will allow larger post-Panamax vessels to transit the canal and bring more cargo through the Port of Houston.

The nearly $50 million contract for the cranes was approved by the Port Commission in 2013.

Port Has Record Year

January 28th, 2015

TB-PHA-overview_490_328The Port of Houston Authority had a tremendous year in 2014, setting records for both steel and container cargo, Executive Director Roger Guenther announced Tuesday, Jan. 27.

In a report to the Port Commission at its monthly meeting, Guenther said PHA’s terminals handled more than 37 million tons of cargo last year, which marked an increase of 5 percent compared to the previous year and also set a record.

“The unified and collective effort of all of our stakeholders is the key to what continues to make the Port of Houston a great economic engine for not only our region, but for the state of Texas and the nation,” Guenther said.

“Cargo volumes continue to be strong as we begin a new year and new century for the Houston Ship Channel,” he added.

A total of 6.6 million tons of steel crossed the Port Authority’s docks in 2014, breaking the previous record of 6.3 million tons. Container tonnage topped 19.4 million tons last year.

Other business lines also performed well last year, making it one of the best years to date for grain and bulk exports, Guenther said.

The strong showing in 2014 resulted in solid financial results for the Port Authority, with $261 million in operating revenue, $39 million in net operating income and $116 million in cash flow.

“These healthy results are vital to our continued success as we prepare for even greater growth and prosperity in the future,” Guenther said.

Plans call for a significant capital investment plan during the next five years that will include new and redevelopment projects totaling in excess of $1 billion.

Among 2014 highlights Guenther cited Tuesday was the beginning of the deepening and widening of the Barbours Cut and Bayport channels, an $80 million project that is funded by the Port Authority.

He also recognized high productivity levels for Port Authority cranes, with more than 99 percent reliability, which is well above the national average. At the same time, PHA’s focus on safety awareness resulted in a decline in incidents.

Strategic real estate agreements supporting cargo operations also were executed during 2014. Those included agreements with Enterprise Product Partners for the export of ethane and with Frontier Logistics for the export of plastic resins.

Additionally, the Port Authority is accommodating new alliances of container carriers, including one between the world’s two largest container lines, Maersk and MSC, which will allow for their future growth through Port Authority facilities.

For 2015, a key Port Authority priority is to explore and develop an even more diverse range of cargo, including opportunities for the shipment of refrigerated goods through the port. PHA also is preparing to handle an increase in plastic resin exports that is expected during the next several years.

The Port Commission Tuesday voted to enter into a 30-year lease agreement with the Houston Maritime Museum for property on the southwest side of the M/V Sam Houston Pavilion to serve as the site for constructing a new museum facility.

Course correction

December 1st, 2014

Photo: Jeannie Peng-Armao, San Jacinto College marketing, public relations, and government affairs department.

Photo: Jeannie Peng-Armao, San Jacinto College marketing, public relations, and government affairs department.

San Jacinto College program helps workers transition into new careers

By Rod Evans

It’s no secret that the oil and gas industry is a major driver of the Greater Houston Area economy, with thousands of residents employed in the energy sector. But despite the fact that the Houston Ship Channel celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, its impact on the region’s employment landscape is sometimes taken for granted.

According to Port of Houston Authority figures, the 25-mile Port of Houston generates $178.5 billion in statewide economic impact and another $4.5 billion in state and local tax revenues each year. The complex also creates over one million ship channel related jobs statewide, and as the ship channel embarks on its second century, the demand for skilled and educated workers shows no signs of abating. San Jacinto College, through its maritime program, is helping industries doing business along the ship channel find the qualified employees they need to meet the demands of the 21st century.

The school is part of a select group of community colleges across the nation benefiting from funds provided through the federal Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) program. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, in 2009, the American Recovery Reinvestment Act amended the Trade Act of 1974 to authorize funding for TAACCCT. When President Obama signed the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act in 2010, it provided $2 billion in grants over four years to help re-train workers, including veterans, the unemployed and people who lost their jobs due to changes in foreign trade regulations, for high-wage, high-skill, in-demand jobs in areas such information technology, health care, energy, manufacturing and international trade. Implemented by the U.S. Department of Labor in partnership with the U.S. Department of Education, the program helps community colleges and other eligible institutions of higher learning expand their career training programs that can be completed in two years or less.

“We are training people to re-deploy into the international trade industries through our international business maritime logistics program,” said Margaret Kidd, project director of TAACCCT at San Jacinto College. “We are the only Texas college in the consortium of 12 community colleges in the nation currently participating in the program.”

Kidd says San Jacinto College has included eight certifications related primarily to supply chain operations into its international business curriculum. The program typically consists of 60 hours of course work to be completed over two years. Courses include Principles of Import and Export, International Business and Principles of Supply Chain. Students can take national exams to earn certifications in areas such as transportation operations, warehousing operations and customer service.

“If someone gets a certification in warehousing, for example, just imagine how employable they’ll be,” Kidd says. “It’s a great way to get your foot in the door, and people in many of these jobs can make between $25 and $87 per hour.”

The TAACCCT was created in the wake of the Great Recession of 2008, when millions of American workers lost their jobs as a result of corporate downsizing and changes in international trade regulations. Since then, the program has helped to re-train thousands of workers to transition into new careers in trade related industries. It has also helped employees seeking to move into management positions at their companies attain the skills needed to be considered for higher paying, more rewarding positions.

Cynthia Nash’s story serves as an example of how the program seeks to help long time employees improve their marketability. Nash has worked in a variety of supply chain positions at Halliburton in the Houston area over the past 36 years and is currently enrolled in her first semester at San Jac. Her goal is to advance up the career ladder with the company after she earns her two-year degree.

“I’m working toward obtaining certification in logistics and supply chain management,” Nash said. “In my first semester, we’re going over logistics processes and key terms, many of which I am familiar with, but I don’t know the entire process. This has been very enlightening for me and I’m hoping to move into a management position once I complete the program.”

According to Kidd, who has served as an instructor in supply chain courses at both the University of Houston and Texas Southern University, many of the students enrolling in the program are in their 30s and 40s and were laid off from their previous jobs or are returning to school after spending years working in supply chain industries. Thanks to advances in technology and rapidly changing trade protocols, many of these employees now find that they need additional education in order to advance their careers to the next level.

“Our students work in a number of areas, including freight forwarding, purchasing, trade compliance, customer service, inventory control, packaging and bilingual marketing,” Kidd said. “In the past, a lot of supply chain jobs didn’t require degrees or advanced certifications, but that’s changing because of technology. Many employees have to be more technologically savvy or multi-lingual to work in that environment now.”

Students interested in enrolling in the program should come ready to work, Kidd says, because the courses require a high level of dedication and versatility.

“I would say that the jobs most of our students are training for are not for sissies. Our students are not afraid of getting dirty if they have to go into a warehouse setting or something. In general, they need to be really good students, have high self esteem and be very determined. While most of our students come from the Houston area, we have many students who come from areas such as West Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and China.”

Alexis Odounton, a native of the West African nation of Benin, began studying for his associate’s degree in international business logistics at San Jac in January of this year. He’s on schedule to earn his degree next year and plans to pursue a career in international logistics management, shipping or warehousing. He moved to the U.S. eight years ago to work in business administration for a company in Nebraska, but hopes the move to Texas will jump start his career.

“San Jacinto College was the right place for me because I found what I was looking for,” Odounton said. “When I was in Nebraska, I discovered that business administration wasn’t what I was looking for. Now, I will have the education to help me start working in the field that’s right for me. Plus, San Jacinto doesn’t cost a lot and I can earn my degree in a short period of time.”

For more information on the TAACCCT program at San Jacinto College or courses offered in the school’s maritime program, visit Sanjac.edu/maritime.

Bay Area Houston Magazine