Port Freeport – Texan Fortunes
Port Freeport is undergoing an exciting period of expansion and investment, one which will see dividends for Texas and the United States as a whole.
If you head directly south from the city of Houston, after 60 miles you reach Port Freeport. A deep-water port on the Texas coast, this port ranks 19th in international cargo tonnage in the USA and features new, state-of-the-art infrastructure.
“Port Freeport is built out to handle automobile storage and processing, steel products, fresh fruit, petrochemicals, LNG, and other varieties of cargo,” explains Phyllis Saathoff, the port’s CEO. “We’re very diverse in our offering and being served by a deep-water channel in such close proximity to open water is a unique advantage.”
Port Freeport boasts transit times of under an hour alongside a diverse range of services, but it also still has room for growth.
“We consider ourselves a port of opportunity, with ample land and waterfront for development to continue to build and offer infrastructure,” Saathoff says. “Because the Port is not fully built-out, we can work with customers to adapt to their needs. We’re deepening and widening the channel to become the deepest port in Texas. The new generation of vessels that carry more cargo require deeper water and expanded areas for navigation. A deeper and wider channel will improve safety and efficiency and allow us to serve a wider range of global vessels so customers can enjoy greater economies of scale.”
Alongside the value that will derive from this deeper channel, Port Freeport is matching these developments with landside investments that will benefit existing tenants as well as new tenants looking for a home.
“Construction of the channel deepening project will be initiated in the spring of 2020,” Saathoff tells us. “Already underway is the construction of an additional 925-foot of a berth at the container handling facility. The new berth will be completed in an estimated 32 months, and with a deeper channel it will be available to serve larger vessels in the waterway.”
This development will add significant berthing capacity to Port Freeport’s system and will be supported by enhancements currently being made to the rail infrastructure of the port.
“Port Freeport began receiving roll on-roll off vessels in 2014. In the first five years, the number of vessel calls for the import and export of automobiles and high and heavy equipment has more than doubled,” Saathoff points out. “This is an area we continue to see growth in. Steel is another growing commodity segment for the Port with the Tenaris pipe fabrication facility in Bay City, Texas in full production.”
In addition to steel, a significant amount of energy products move through private terminals located along the Freeport Harbor Channel, with liquified natural gas forecast to significantly increase in a way that will propel Freeport into the highest-ranking US ports. But these are just some of the factors contributing to what is set to be a very exciting time for Port Freeport.
“We’re also seeing more crude exports and other liquified gas products at terminals in the port area,” Saathoff says. “With an authorized project to deepen the channel and land available for development, Port Freeport is poised for continued growth. We’re already very impactful when it comes to not only the state and the region but the nation as a whole because we are growing the export sector for energy products.”
Land of Opportunity
Texas has a justified reputation for being a very business-friendly state and with the wide array of opportunities on offer, it can be a challenge to orchestrate the best way to take advantage of them.
“We continuously evaluate how we match strategic investment decisions to the economic expansion and future growth in the region,” Saathoff points out.
Port Freeport makes these decisions through close collaboration with local, state and federal government, as Saathoff tells us, “We continue to work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the widening and deepening channel project. It’s a $295 million federal cost-shared project, that will deliver significant benefits to the state and nation for decades. We work through the required regulatory and appropriation processes, moving our project forward in as timely a manner as possible.”
Port Freeport is developing as a multimodal industrial park. This year they have completed rail infrastructure for a 200 plus acre parcel of land and have 20 acres for automobile type storage under construction with plans to build another 60 acres. Saathoff explains, “We’re also working with a commercial developer to advance the construction of over one and a half million square feet of warehousing and distribution facilities. As a landlord port, finding partners to bring investment and economic development has proven successful.
The port’s development is ultimately guided by a Port Commission that represents a range of industries and interests.
“The Port Commission is comprised of six elected individuals who, because of their industry and financial backgrounds, bring a lot of knowledge to the table. We conduct strategic workshops twice a year to revisit the Port’s strategic initiatives and the scope and timing of associated capital projects This gives the Finance team the information needed for sound cash flow forecasting, financial planning and budgeting. The value of this process is evident in the results the Port has achieved by working together toward the same focused objectives,” Saathoff says.
This approach, bringing together different perspectives and expertise to arrive at the best solutions, is one that is reflected throughout the business.
“It’s really important to have a diverse team working together toward a shared vision and that’s what we have in Freeport,” says Saathoff. “We don’t see a lot of staff turnover. Recruiting new personnel has been easier than expected because of the opportunity for expansion at the Port and the great community around it. In addition to a competitive wage and benefits package, we offer the opportunity to be part of a growing port and that gets people excited.” And they have a lot to be excited about, as Port Freeport’s fortunes are set to have an impact across the United States.
“I can’t over-emphasise the importance of Texas ports right now,” Saathoff insists. “With the lifting of the crude oil export ban in 2015 and what’s happened in the oil and gas industry, investments in modernizing the deep-draft channels connecting Texas ports to the world should be a national priority. Texas ports annually contribute $1.2 trillion to the economic value of the country. It’s amazing what happens in Texas, it’s always been important but it’s even more so now.”