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Economy / Business

Are Florida ports the solution to America's supply chain problems? These factors make it difficult

Container ships at Port Manatee

While Florida ports have been working since before the pandemic to attract more cargo routes, experts say this latest push may not provide a quick fix to supply chain bottlenecks.

Over the last month, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and other leaders have been promoting the state as a destination for cargo. They suggest ships avoid busy harbors like Los Angeles and Long Beach, sail through the Panama Canal, and drop anchor in the Sunshine State.

WUSF's Bradley George spoke with Raj Srivastava, director of the Center for Supply Chain Excellence at Florida Gulf Coast University. Below is an edited transcript of their conversation.

I'm wondering if you could just take us back to before COVID. What did supply chain networks look like in Florida, especially our seaports?

Before COVID, if you'd look at normal demand patterns, then the number of ships being planned by exporters from other countries was divided between the types of goods and which coast they were going to. But that was all planned, because production was going along according to schedule, shipping was scheduled. So, all the links in the supply chain were working together.

Do Florida ports have the capacity to take on what ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach and other places on the West Coast deal with?

We do have, I believe, 14 deep water ports. But not all of them are deep enough to handle most of the cargo ships. For example, our deepest port is Port Everglades, and Port Manatee is there almost. But even in rerouting, there's other issues. Supposed the ship is already at Long Beach. First of all, we have to make sure that those goods are meant for the eastern half of the country. Now you're adding about 10 to 14 days of travel time. It takes about five days for the ship to reach Panama Canal, another day or two days to get through the Panama Canal, assuming it's not that busy, and then another three, three and a half days to get to either Port Everglades or Port Manatee. So, we're talking about 12 to 14 days.

I think also Florida's it a little bit of a geographic disadvantage because we're so far south of the rest of the U.S.

You're right on that part. Because we are a peninsula, that means the trucking distance will become longer. The only advantage we see is because we do have a large population. So proportionately some goods, it may be advantageous to have them here.

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