New vision needed for the Port of Pensacola

New vision needed for the Port of Pensacola

Posted April 29, 2018

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been looking more in depth at the city’s financials to learn more about where they are raising money and where they are spending it. While there are minor things I might change on spending, the financial health was relatively stable except for one glaring weakness, the Port of Pensacola.

The Port has no liquid assets and a sizable annual cash loss before even adding depreciation. Still, the 56 acres with deep water access is a great asset for the city. The problem is we may not be looking at the right way to use it.

We are getting beat on commodity shipments by every port in Florida and nearly the entire Gulf of Mexico, even Panama City just down the road. The landlocked nature of the port’s location with less than optimal train service hurts our ability to compete in the traditional commodity and transport business. However, we may have a real opportunity with marine research.

Every day we are learning more about our oceans and other saltwater bodies of water. As we learn more, new business opportunities arise. However, opportunities will only arise in those communities that are taking the forward position to study them. We should reevaluate the use of the port and find a way we can encourage more research. At 56 acres, we are not constricted by land or for this use, and limitations on rail service would not be an issue.

Also, we already have research partners in IHMC and UWF. This is why I was a huge advocate of the Triumph project for IHMC to begin marine research with its robotic expertise. This is another reason I thought the Florida DEP fish hatchery would be ideal for the port where synergistic research could be taking place rather than isolated. If we were to couple the berth access with the land available, we could position Pensacola and NW Florida as a leader for marine research.

It will not happen overnight. However, if we begin to change our focus and build new relationships and partners, we could significantly change the economic trajectory of not the Port of Pensacola but our economy as we move forward.

Today I had the opportunity to open the Skills USA state competition here at the Bay Center for its first return to Pensacola after the original 2012–2014 hosting. That organization and competition are critical to engaging our youth to invest in themselves and develop skills that make an attractive labor force. I worked hard to secure Skill’s original visit because it was good for both our economy and our students. However, we need also to be making sure that there are economic opportunities for those students to use those skills here in Pensacola. What better way to plan for the economy of the future than to invest in the research that will develop it.

In the end, the Port of Pensacola does not have to be a drain on the city. In fact, it can be a catalyst. However, it will require leadership that sees the opportunity to be unique and play to strengths and eliminates our weaknesses. I hope to provide that vision.

— Grover Robinson

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