FILE - Florida ports

The CMA CGM BIANCA container ship goes up Government Cut in Miami Beach, Fla., to PortMiami on Friday, May 15, 2020.

(The Center Square) – The COVID-19 pandemic has cost Florida’s 15 seaports $23 billion in lost economic activity and as many as 170,000 jobs, according to a study financed by the Florida Ports Council (FPC).

The analysis of COVID-19’s economic fallout on Florida’s $117.6 billion maritime industry – the nation’s second-largest – was conducted by maritime research company Martin Associates on behalf of FPC’s effort to secure assistance for the nation’s seaports, which have been overlooked in previous federal pandemic assistance packages.

With Congress returning this week to review a stalled COVID-19 relief package that awaits reconciliation between House Democrats and Senate Republicans, FPC published last week the report that documents how Florida’s ports were booming before the response to the pandemic. The report projected the ports will continue to do so if they can survive the effects of COVID-19.

FPC’s 2020-24 Five-Year Seaport Mission Plan was bullish on expansion, with more than $3 billion in improvements administered through its Florida Seaport Transportation and Economic Development Council (FSTED) moving forward despite the pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the continued importance of state investment in our ports. Investing in strategic port infrastructure keeps our state and local economies healthy and moves commerce safely and efficiently 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” FPC President and CEO Doug Wheeler said. “Even with the uncertainty ahead, our ports have capital improvement plans that total more than $3 billion over the next five years, providing jobs and huge economic impacts in local communities.”

Florida’s seaports generate $117.6 billion annually in national economic benefit and provide more than 900,000 direct and indirect jobs across the country, FPC said.

FPC documented Florida’s ports moved nearly 112 million tons of cargo valued at $86.6 billion in 2019. The state’s largest international trade partners were China, Japan, the Dominican Republic, Brazil and Mexico.

According to the Florida Chamber of Commerce, more than 37 percent of goods manufactured in the U.S. are exported overseas from Florida. More than 61,000 Florida companies export more than $6.5 billion in goods to more than 170 countries, creating 2.5 million indirect jobs while directly employing nearly 66,000 Floridians, the chamber said.

Meanwhile, Florida’s $8 billion cruise industry was growing increasingly popular until the pandemic. Last year, according to FPC, 18.3 million passengers took cruises out of Florida ports, an 8.7 percent increase from 2018 and a 30 percent increase since 2010.

Fourteen cruise lines employ nearly 150,000 state residents and operate 63 ships out of five Florida ports, where more than 11.5 million passengers spent $1.05 billion ashore in 2016, according to Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), which has set an industry wide “no sail” that expires Oct. 1

In an Aug. 3 letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, FPC’s Wheeler said no funding for ports has been provided in any COVID-19 relief packages.

“Whether moving over a 100 million tons of cargo annually or millions of cruise passengers, Florida’s seaports generate and support a vast array of commerce and are the international gateways for goods shipped in and out of the state,” Wheeler wrote.

FPC’s five-year plan is updated annually through FSTED, which was created by the Florida Legislature 30 years ago. Highlights in the 2019 update include:

• $86.6 billion in value of total waterborne trade;

• 18.3 million cruise passenger movements;

• $3.1 billion in combined port capital improvement plan investments over the next five years;

• 30 percent increase in cruise passengers since 2010;

• 111.8 million tons of cargo moved.