The Business Council of Alabama’s “Engage Alabama” virtual conference this week featured a session focused on the Port of Mobile.
The segment, lasting more than 25 minutes, focused on how the Alabama State Port Authority can help build the state’s future.
Port Authority CEO and director John Driscoll joined PowerSouth Energy Cooperative vice president for external affairs Horace Horn to discuss the important topic.
Horn, who is a past chairman and current member of the Port Authority’s board of directors, opened his remarks by expressing how fortunate Alabama’s seaport — and the State — is to have Driscoll newly serving in his role. He recently assumed the reins from longtime Port Authority leader Jimmy Lyons, and Horn noted that Driscoll has “big shoes to fill.”
Driscoll in response hailed the job heading the Port Authority as “a supreme honor.”
“Jimmy Lyons has done an unbelievable job,” Driscoll added.
He then overviewed his personal and professional background, explaining that a large amount of his career expertise and experience pertains to containerization.
“[T]hat’s an important piece of our growth strategy in the years to come,” Driscoll advised.
Horn subsequently asked Driscoll what role he sees the port playing in Alabama’s continued economic growth.
In his response, Driscoll stressed that the Port of Mobile exists to serve the state and its people. He outlined that it impacts each and every one of Alabama’s 67 counties.
Major Yellowhammer State sectors that the port serves include the metallurgical coal, automotive, aerospace and agricultural industries, per Driscoll.
“We see our role to be supportive of [economic] development… wherever we can to generate more economic prosperity, jobs and business,” he commented.
Horn lamented that some people in the state may still look at the port as serving only southwest Alabama, a notion that he and Driscoll both rejected soundly.
“It is the Alabama state port,” Horn reiterated, with Driscoll verbally affirming.
“Everybody at the port takes that very seriously,” Driscoll underscored.
The discussion then turned to how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the day-to-day operations of the port this year. While things look different on a daily basis and challenges have arisen, Driscoll stressed that the big picture for — and the goals of — the port have not been impacted by the virus.
“We’ve been successful and the port is open for business,” he emphasized.
Horn asked Driscoll what opportunities for more growth are on the port’s horizon, especially related to facility expansion and infrastructure improvements.
The first project to come up, naturally, was the “historic widening and deepening” of the Mobile Harbor Ship Channel.
The Port Authority and the Army Corps of Engineers recently entered into a Project Partnership Agreement on this endeavor. The funding for the effort was secured on the federal level by U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), and a 25% state match was made possible by the Rebuild Alabama Act.
Driscoll said that expansion and improvement projects like that one have continued even amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“People believe in it,” he remarked.
He also shared that the Corps has solicited bids for the deepening and widening project, with bids expected back by the end of September. Driscoll said the first shovel is expected to hit the ground on the project by the end of this year.
The port head listed two more key projects underway.
First, he said the under-construction automobile roll on/roll off (RO/RO) terminal is “on schedule and on budget right now.” The projected timeline for completion remains early 2021. Driscoll further advised that the terminal operator has indicated that there is already a customer who wants to utilize the terminal when it is done.
“That shows that investment is a wise one,” he noted. “That’s a really exciting one.”
Next, he highlighted the $60 million refrigerated storage and distribution center that MTC Logistics is building at the port.
Driscoll soon thereafter listed his personal goals for the port longterm.
“Number one is to continue the focus on the development,” he said. “Working with our partners in the different regions of this state to bring in more business.”
Driscoll outlined how important — and mutually beneficial — public-private collaboration with a multitude of partners is for the port.
He specified that the port can not only help existing industry in the state grow, but the port can also be a tool to recruit new industries into Alabama.
Continuing to revamp, enhance and modernize port infrastructure, as well as resources, is another goal of Driscoll’s.
“I think that’s very important,” he stated.
Value-added projects on port property will be an additional focus of his, Driscoll continued to say.
Horn closed the segment by once again talking about the statewide nature of the port.
“It does affect all 67 counties; every county in the state benefits from having the port there,” Horn affirmed.
You can watch a replay of the port Engage Alabama session here, as well as the rest of the informative segments from the two-day virtual conference.
Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn