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NJ Ports See Record Growth & Expansion

Shift in consumer spending means “ships have come in,” while opportunity is “blowing in the wind!”

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers struggled to stay supplied with basics like toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Panic-driven hoarding of products many Americans take for granted only increased consumer concern and anxiety. Today, that panic and potential depravation seem like a thing of the past. 

While airport passenger volume, train ridership and bridge and tunnel traffic were all down significantly during the pandemic, New Jersey’s seaports have set all-time cargo records, including a 35% increase at the Port of New York and New Jersey from March 2019 to March of 2021. 

In fact, in a fitting tribute during the celebration of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s 100th Anniversary in 2021, the Port of New York and New Jersey welcomed the CMA CGM MARCO POLO to APM Terminals at the Elizabeth Port Authority Marine Terminal in May after a transatlantic voyage via the Suez Canal. The arrival set a new record for the largest ship to call on the Port of New York and New Jersey, unseating the CMA CGM BRAZIL, which arrived in September of 2020. To date, the CMA CGM MARCO POLO is also the largest vessel to call upon any US East Coast port and will continue to break records as it sails south to call on other ports. 

Cargo Trends 

“During the pandemic, we saw a significant shift in spending from services, such as travel and dining, to home goods consistent with the ‘stay-at-home’ economy. Specific containerized cargo that played into this shift included furniture, kitchenware, computers, printers, televisions and home improvement items,” Sam Ruda, director, Port of New York and New Jersey, notes. 

“Another category of goods that saw sharp increases in cargo volume include beer, wine and spirits. Initially, the seaport began to see cargo declines due to the pandemic beginning from March 2020. By July 2020, cargo volumes began to increase steadily,” Ruda says. “The Port of New York and New Jersey finished the calendar year 2020 with an increase in total container volume of 1.5%. Since July 2020, the seaport has experienced double digit container growth on a monthly basis, and this has continued into 2021.” 

The 2020 Report on the Economic Value of the New York-New Jersey Port Industry, titled, “A 21st Century Supply Chain Critical to the Region and Nation,” and issued by the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority as a member of the Council on Port Performance in collaboration with the New York Shipping Association and other port partners, noted that in 2019, in terms of container volume, the Port was both the largest operation on the Atlantic Coast and the second largest container port in the US, handling nearly 7.5 million TEUs, close to 578,000 vehicles, nearly 50 million tons of bulk cargo, nearly 102,000 tons of breakbulk cargo, and 304 cruise vessels. 

The port industry’s total impact grew substantially, with more 506,000 jobs supported in 2019, an increase over the nearly 400,000 jobs supported in 2016, the 336,600 supported in 2014, and the 296,000 jobs supported in 2012. That includes 239,100 direct jobs, 506,350 total jobs in the region, over $36.1 billion in personal income, more than $99.5 billion in business activity generated by port industry operations, and close to $12 billion in federal, state and local tax revenues, with local and state tax revenues of nearly $4.4 billion and federal tax revenues of nearly $7.6 billion. 

South Jersey port terminals are similarly bustling with activity as the economy rebounds and responds to the pent-up demand, according to Brendan Dugan, assistant executive director and director of business development of the South Jersey Port Corporation (SJPC). “Total tonnage through Q1 2021 was 1,032,313 short tons, a 5% increase compared to the same period in 2020. Steel imports at our Camden and Paulsboro terminals are leading the way with 542,986 s/tons, a 40% increase compared to 2020,” Dugan adds. Wood products increased by 35% to 54,363 s/tons and cocoa beans increased by 24% to 35,673 s/tons. Total revenue is up 2.8%. 

“South Jersey Ports specializes in bulk, breakbulk and project cargo,” Dugan continues. “Increased volumes at our terminals are being driven by the unrelenting demand for consumer products combined with a shift to bulk and breakbulk for products like cocoa and wood products caused by the increased cost of container shipping. Our warehouses are running at or near capacity,” Dugan says. “The demand for products like slag, which is used in cement mixing, is lagging because many big construction projects were either delayed or cancelled during the pandemic, but we expect that to pick up shortly, especially if the Biden infrastructure plan is approved.” 

An Economic Updraft 

The South Jersey port is also positioned to become the epicenter of the offshore wind industry along the East Coast due to its location, investments in infrastructure, available land, and integrated highway and rail access. A recently signed agreement clears the way for EEW American Offshore Structures to build a manufacturing facility at the Paulsboro Marine Terminal to support Orsted’s offshore wind project. EEW will provide the monopiles, which weigh 5.5 million pounds and are 850 feet tall. “This is the first significant step toward preparing the port for the future of offshore wind,” Andy Saporito, executive director and CEO of South Jersey Ports, points out.  

“Simultaneously, the state of New Jersey is in the process of building another offshore wind port, which will bring another 200 acres online and complement our work in Paulsboro,” Saporito explains. “New Jersey is ideally located for offshore wind projects and, crucially, we have a governor who supports the activity. He has included $200 million in this year’s state budget for the project. It will bring a lot of jobs to the region. 

“We expect to build on our recent successes and investments in this industry to become a key part of the supply chain for offshore wind,” Saporito continues. “There are 17 wind farms planned off the East Coast from Massachusetts to Virginia, and President Biden has prioritized the New Jersey coast to our nation’s success. At the same time, we remained focus on our core business. The Delaware River has been deepened to 45 feet. This will help our terminals handle larger ships. We would also like to see an increase in water depth in Camden at some point, depending on demand. There will be ongoing investment in our terminals up and down the river throughout the next 5 to 10 years because we need to ensure that we continue to provide the best service for our customers. SJPC is a pillar of the Delaware River maritime industry, which generates $77.6 billion in economic activity and supports 192,000 jobs in three states. It is indispensable to global markets due to its interconnected role in manufacturing and distribution networks. ” 

“The past 100 years have established the Port Authority as a relentless, positive force in the transportation, economic and cultural life of this vibrant New York-New Jersey region,” Port Authority Chairman Kevin O’Toole concludes. “The future is exciting and unpredictable, but one thing is certain: This agency will continue to be a powerful engine that keeps the region, and the country, moving forward.”

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