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Study: Phila.-area ports at crossroads

July 16, 2008

Philadelphia Business Journal


The Delaware River ports are at a critical crossroads where the potential for growth exists, but it will hinge on the region's ability to take a coordinated approach to future development, according to a study released Wednesday.


The study, Maritime Commerce in Greater Philadelphia: Assessing Industry Trends and Growth Opportunities for Delaware River Ports, is the result of research by the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia and was commissioned by the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp.


More than 40 ports' operations in New Jersey and Pennsylvania were examined by the study, which found an industry that has remained viable despite being constrained by an inland, upriver location and naturally shallow channel and a lack of significant investment in container facilities. To realize growth in the future, the region's ports should work collaboratively in leveraging existing assets, investing in infrastructure and marketing.


"Our role is to help bring stakeholders together around the facts," Steve Wray, executive director of the Economy League, said. "We are hopeful that this report will lead to productive actions to take best advantage of the ports as a regional economic generator."


Among the findings of the study are that the region's ports have experienced growth in business, but a decline in market share, in part because of the nature of the cargo they handle. About 65 percent of the region's cargo tonnage is in petroleum, an industry that is stable but has not experienced growth.


The region's ports are also lacking in container facilities, failing to significantly invest like Port of New York/New Jersey, Baltimore and Virginia, where the vast majority of global growth in maritime commerce has occurred over the past quarter century. Also affecting ports is a drastic import/export trade balance. In 2005, the region's import tonnage outpaced export tonnage by 34:1, and the imbalance was even more severe in Philadelphia -- 80:1.


The ports employ 4,056 workers across Greater Philadelphia who earn $326 million and generate $1.3 billion in economic output annually, with the city of Philadelphia ports representing about 45 percent of regionwide employment, labor, income and economic output.


The region's ports generate a total of $69 million in state tax revenue, including $44 million in Pennsylvania, $18 million in New Jersey and $7 million in Delaware and $11.6 million in wage tax revenue for Philadelphia.