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Florida’s ports can alleviate shipping container crisis, but experts say it might not be by the holidays

“To truly relieve the pressure is probably unrealistic,” said Tom Smythe, finance professor at Florida Gulf Coast University.

TAMPA, Fla. — Florida’s ports are poised to play a major role in alleviating the backlog of shipping containers off the West Coast, but experts say the rerouting ships might not be worth the effort for many shippers — and it could leave some holiday shoppers in limbo.

“To truly relieve the pressure is probably unrealistic,” said Tom Smythe, a finance professor at Florida Gulf Coast University.

Smythe says rerouting to Florida often means going through the Panama Canal, which can tack on additional time and costs for shippers.

"It adds about two weeks’ time to traverse the Panama Canal,” said Smythe. “There are costs to doing that, and businesses are going to have to evaluate whether or not the benefits of getting things into the U.S. sooner.”

During a recent press conference, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis highlighted local ports’ preparedness, lack of congestion and readiness to take on additional shipping containers.

In a statement, Port Tampa Bay’s CEO Paul Anderson said the port’s proximity to the I-4 corridor is a plus for shippers looking to get goods to throughout the region’s densely populated area. He said the I-4 corridor is home to more than 400 distribution centers.

Additionally, Florida’s port leaders say they will offer incentives to shippers who bring their cargo here. However, experts aren’t convinced it’s necessary.

“I'm not so sure they should be offering a tremendous amount of incentives, because we have something that they need and that is access,” said Smythe.

Jonathan Daniels, chair of the Florida Ports Council, said that access will certainly help address the shipping container backlog, but agrees with Smythe that it won’t happen overnight.

"It's not like flipping a switch. You have to work with freight forwarders, you have to work with the shipping lines themselves, and they have to take a look at the economics of coming through the Panama Canal and the significant cost associated with that and ultimately landing at Port Tampa or one of Florida's other ports.” said Daniels.

However, Daniels says Florida is positioned to offer a strong long-term solution to the supply chain disruptions impacting the arrival of goods throughout the country.

"There's 15 ports in the state of Florida. Eight of them are capable of handling containers and do on a variety of scales. So, this is the opportunity that I think that many of us have been waiting for—to be able to look at Florida as a port system and be able to specifically target areas where they are seeing congestion."